John Owen, The Glory of Christ, part 2


Meditations And Discourses Concerning The Glory Of Christ;

Applied Unto Unconverted Sinners And Saints Under Spiritual Decays.

In Two Chapters, From John 17:24.





Original Preface.

    
To The Reader.
    
    The design of this preface is not to commend either the author
or the matter contained in this little book. Let every reader do as
he finds cause. Nor need any assurance be given that Dr Owen was the
author, to any who have conversed with his writings, and will be at
the pains to read this over. It is, indeed, his application of the
former Discourses upon this subject, printed in the year 1684. But
the reason why it was not then added (the omission whereof rendered
that book imperfect to judicious readers) seems necessary to be
given. Had it pleased God he had lived a little longer, it would
have come out as perfect as his other works. But there being no more
transcribed in his lifetime than what was then printed, and that
published soon after his death, these two chapters, wrote only with
his own hand, were found too late to be then added. They are
therefore now printed to complete those Discourses. And it is
presumed, that as no serious Christian who reads this will be
satisfied without the other also, so all who prize the former will
be glad of the opportunity to add this thereunto. *
    
    * The Discourses that follow were first printed in 1691, eight
years after the death of Dr Owen. This circumstance may explain the
absence of the Italics, of which he generally made free use in all
his publications. - Ed.





Part II.



Meditations and Discourses concerning the Glory of Christ.



Chapter 1.


Application of the foregoing meditations concerning the Glory of
Christ: First, in an Exhortation unto such as are not yet Partakers
of Him.
    
    That which remains is, to make some application of the glorious
truth insisted on unto the souls of them that are concerned; and
what I have to offer unto that end I shall distribute under two
heads. The first shall be with respect unto them who are yet
strangers from this holy and glorious One, - who are not yet made
partakers of him, nor have any especial interest in him. And the
second shall be directed unto believers, as a guide and assistance
unto their recovery from spiritual decays, and the revival of a
spring of vigorous grace, holiness, and obedience in them.
    For the first of these, although it seems not directly to lie
in our way, yet is it suited unto the method of the Gospel, that
wherever there is a declaration of the excellencies of Christ, in
his person, grace, or office, it should be accompanied with an
invitation and exhortation unto sinners to come unto him. This
method he himself first made use of, Matt. 11: 27-30; John 7: 37,
38, and consecrated it unto our use also. Besides, it is necessary
from the nature of the things themselves; for who can dwell on the
consideration of the glory of Christ, being called therewith to the
declaration of it, but his own mind will engage him to invite lost
sinners unto a participation of him? But I shall at present proceed
no farther in this exhortation, but only unto the proposal of some
of those considerations which may prepare, incline, and dispose
their minds unto a closure with him as he is tendered in the Gospels
As, -
    1. Let them consider well what is their present state with
respect unto God and eternity. This Moses wisheth for the
Israelites, Deut. 32: 29, "Oh that they were wise, that they
understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" It is
the greatest folly in the world to leave the issues of these things
unto an uncertain hazard; and that man who cannot prevail with
himself strictly to examine what is his state and condition with
respect unto eternity, does never do any good nor abstain from any
evil in a due manner. Remember, therefore, that "many are called,
but few are chosen." To be called, is to enjoy all the outward
privileges of the Gospel, - which is all you unto whom I speak can
pretend unto; yet this you may do and not be chosen; - even among
those unto whom the word is preached, they are but few that shall be
saved. In the distribution made by our Lord Jesus Christ of the
hearers of the word into four sorts of ground, it was but one of
them that received real benefit thereby; and if our congregations
are no better than were his hearers, there is not above a fourth
part of them that will be saved, - it may be a far less number; -
and is it not strange that every one of them is not jealous over
himself and his own condition? Many herein deceive themselves until
they fall under woeful surprisals. And this is represented in the
account of the final judgement; for the generality of those who have
professed the Gospel are introduced as complaining of their
disappointments, Matt. 25: 41-44 [10-12?]. For what is there spoken
is only a declaration of what befell them here in the close of their
lives, and their personal judgement thereon.
    2. Take heed of being deluded by common presumptions. Most men
have some thoughts in general about what their state is, and what it
will be in the issue; but they make no diligent search into this
matter, because a number of common presumptions do immediately
insinuate themselves into their minds for their relief; and they are
such as all whose force and efficacy unto this end lies in this,
that they differ from others, and are better than they; - as that
they are Christians, that they are in the right way of religion,
that they are partakers of the outward privileges of the Gospel,
hearing the word, and participating of the sacraments; - that they
have light and convictions, so as that they abstain from sin, and
perform duties so as others do not; and the like. All those with
whom it is not so, who are behind them in these things, they judge
to be in an ill state and condition, whence they entertain good
hopes concerning themselves; and this is all that most trust unto.
It is not my present business to discourse the vanity of
presumptions; - it has been done by many. I give only this warning
in general, unto those who have the least design or purpose to come
to Christ, and to be made partakers of him, that they put no trust
in them, that they rely not on them; for if they do so they will
eternally deceive their souls. This was a great part of the
preparatory ministry of John the Baptist, Matt. 3: 9, "Think not to
say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father." This was
their great comprehensive privilege, containing all the outward
church and covenant advantages. These they rested in and trusted to
unto their ruin; herein he designed to undeceive them.
    3. consider aright what it is to live and die without an
interest in Christ, without a participation of him. Where this is
not stated in the mind, where thoughts of it are not continually
prevalent, there can be no one step taken in the way towards him.
Unless we are thoroughly convinced that without him we are in a
state of apostasy from God, under the curse, obnoxious unto eternal
wrath, as some of the worst of God's enemies, we shall never flee
unto him for refuge in a due manner. "The whole have no need of a
physician, but the sick." Christ "came not to call the righteous,
but sinners to repentance;" and the conviction intended is the
principal end of the ministry of the law. The miseries of this state
have been the subject of innumerable sermons and discourses; but
there is a general misery in the whole, that few take themselves to
be concerned therein, or apply these things unto themselves. Let us
tell men of it a thousand times, yet they either take no notice of
it, or believe it not, or look on it as that which belongs unto the
way and course of preaching, wherein they are not concerned. These
things, it seems, preachers must say; and they may believe them who
have a mind whereunto. It is a rare thing that any one shall as much
as say unto himself, Is it so with me? And if we now, together with
this caution, tell the same men again, that whilst they are
uninterested in Christ, not ingrafted into him by faith, that they
run in vain, that all their labour in religion is lost, that their
duties are all rejected, that they are under the displeasure and
curse of God, that their end is eternal destruction, - which are all
unquestionably certain, - yet will they let all these things pass by
without any farther consideration.
    But here I must fix with them unto whom I speak at present, -
unless there be a full conviction in them of the woeful, deplorable
condition of every soul, of whatever quality, profession, religion,
outward state it be, who is not yet made partaker of Christ, all
that I have farther to add will be of no signification. Remember,
then, that the due consideration hereof is unto you, in your state,
your chiefest concernment in this world: and be not afraid to take
in a full and deep sense of it; for if you are really delivered from
it, and have good evidence thereof, it is nothing unto you but
matter of eternal praise and thanksgiving. And if you are not so, it
is highly necessary that your minds should be possessed with due
apprehension of it. The work of this conviction is the first effect
of true religion; and the great abuse of religion in the world is,
that a pretence of it deludes the minds of men to apprehend that it
is not necessary: for to be of this or that religion, - of this or
that way in religion, - is supposed sufficient to secure the eternal
state of men, though they are never convinced of their lost estate
by nature.
    Consider therefore, his infinite condescension, grace, and love
herein. Why all this towards you? Does he stand in need of you? Have
you deserved it at his hands? Did you love him first? Cannot he be
happy and blessed without you? Has he any design upon you, that he
is so earnest in calling you unto him? Alas! it is nothing but the
overflowing of mercy, compassion, and grace, that moves and acts him
herein. Here lies the entrance of innumerable souls into a death and
condemnation far more severe than those contained in the curse of
the law, 2 Cor. 2: 15, 16. In the contempt of this infinite
condescension of Christ in his holy invitation of sinners to
himself, lies the sting and poison of unbelief, which unavoidably
gives over the souls of men unto eternal ruin. And who shall once
pity them to eternity who are guilty of it? Yea, but, -
    5. Perhaps, if you should, on his invitation, begin to look to
Him, and resolve to come to him, you are greatly afraid that when it
comes to the trial he will not receive you; for no heart can
conceive, no tongue can express, what wretched, vile, and provoking
sinners you have been. That the Lord Christ will receive unto him
such as we are, we have no hopes, or that ever we shall find
acceptance with him. I say it is not amiss when persons come so far
as to be sensible of what discouragements they have to conflict
withal, what difficulties lie in their way, and what objections do
arise against them; for the most do perish in a senseless stupidity,
- they will not consider how it is with them, what is required of
them, nor how it will be in the latter end; - they doubt not but
that either they do believe already, or can do so when they please.
But when any come so far as to charge the failure of their
acceptance with Christ on their own unworthiness, and so are
discouraged from coming unto him, there are arguments for their
conviction and persuasion, which nothing but the devil and unbelief
can defeat. Wherefore, that which is now proposed unto consideration
in answer hereunto, is the readiness of Christ to receive every
sinner, be he who or what he will, that shall come unto him. And
hereof we have the highest evidences that divine wisdom and grace
can give unto us. This is the language of the Gospel, of all that
the Lord Christ did or suffered, which is recorded therein; - this
is the divine testimony of the "three that bear record in heaven,
the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost;" and of the "three that
bear witness in earth, the spirit, the water, and the blood:" all
give their joint testimony, that the Lord Christ is ready to receive
all sinners that come to him. They who receive not this testimony
make God a liar, - both Father, Son, and Spirit. Whatever the Lord
Christ is in the constitution of his person, - in the representation
of the Father, - in his office, - in what he did on the earth, - in
what he does in heaven, - proclaims the same truth. Nothing but
cursed obstinacy in sin and unbelief can suggest a thought unto our
minds that he is not willing to receive us when we come unto him.
Herein we are to bear testimony against the unbelief of all unto
whom the gospel is preached, that come not unto him. Unbelief acting
itself herein, includes a contempt of the wisdom of God, a denial of
his truth or faithfulness, an impeachment of the sincerity of Christ
in his invitations, making him a deceiver, and will issue in an
express hatred of his person and office, and of the wisdom of God in
him. Here, then, you are shut up, - you cannot from hence take any
countenance unto your unbelief
    6. Consider that he is as able to save us as he is ready and
willing to receive us. The testimonies which he has given us unto
his goodness and love are uncontrollable; and none dare directly to
call in question or deny his power. Generally, this is taken for
granted by all, that Christ is able to save us if he will; yea, who
shall question his ability to save us, though we live in sin and
unbelief? And many expect that he will do so, because they believe
he can if he will. But indeed Christ has no such power, no such
ability: he cannot save unbelieving, impenitent sinners; for this
cannot be done without denying himself, acting contrary to his word,
and destroying his own glory. Let none please themselves with such
vain imaginations. Christ is able to save all them, and only them,
who come to God by him. Whilst you live in sin and unbelief, Christ
himself cannot save you; but when it comes to the trial in
particular, some are apt to think, that although they will not
conclude that Christ cannot save them, yet they do, on various
accounts, that they cannot be saved by him. This, therefore, we also
give testimony unto in our exhortation to come unto him, - namely,
that his power to save those that shall comply with his call is
sovereign, uncontrollable, almighty, that nothing can stand in the
way of. All things in heaven and earth are committed unto him; - all
power is his; - and he will use it unto this end, - namely, the
assured salvation of all that come unto him.
    7. Consider greatly what has been spoken of the representation
of God, and all the holy properties of his nature, in him. Nothing
can possibly give us more encouragement to come unto him; for we
have manifested that God, who is infinitely wise and glorious, has
designed to exert all the holy properties of his nature - his mercy,
love, grace, goodness, righteousness, wisdom, and power - in him, in
and unto the salvation of them that do believe. Whoever, therefore,
comes unto Christ by faith on this representation of the glory of
God in him, he ascribes and gives unto God all that glory and honour
which he aimeth at from his creatures; and we can do nothing
wherewith he is pleased equal unto it. Every poor soul that comes by
faith unto Christ, gives unto God all that glory which it is his
design to manifest and be exalted in; - and what can we do more?
There is more glory given unto God by coming unto Christ in
believing, than in keeping the whole law; inasmuch as he hath more
eminently manifested the holy properties of his nature in the way of
salvation by Christ, than in giving of the law. There is therefore
no man who, under gospel invitations, refuseth to come unto and
close with Christ by believing, but secretly, through the power of
darkness, blindness, and unbelief, he hates God, dislikes all his
ways, would not have his glory exalted or manifested, choosing
rather to die in enmity against him than to give glory to him. Do
not deceive yourselves; it is not an indifferent thing, whether you
will come in unto Christ upon his invitations or no, - a thing that
you may put off from one season unto another: your present refusal
of it is as high an act of enmity against God as your nature is
capable of.
    8. Consider that by coming unto Christ you shall have an
interest in all that glory which we have proposed unto you; for
Christ will become yours more intimately than your wives and
children are yours; and so all his glory is yours also. All are apt
to be affected with the good things of their relations, - their
grace, their riches, their beauty, their power; for they judge
themselves to have an interest in them, by reason of their relation
unto them. Christ is nearer to believers than any natural relations
are to us whatever; they have therefore an interest in all his
glory. And is this a small thing in your eyes, that Christ shall be
yours, and all his glory shall be yours, and you shall have the
advantage of it unto your eternal blessedness? Is it nothing unto
you to continue strangers from, and uninterested in, all this glory?
to be left to take your portion in this world, in lusts, and sins,
and pleasures, and a few perishing trifles, with eternal ruin in the
close, whilst such durable substance, such riches of glory, are
tendered unto you?
    Lastly, consider the horrible ingratitude there is in a neglect
or refusal to come in to Christ upon his invitation, with the
doleful, eternal ruin that will ensue thereon. "How shall we escape,
if we neglect so great salvation?" Impenitent unbelievers under the
preaching of the gospel, are the vilest and most ungrateful of all
God's creation. The devils themselves, as wicked as they are, are
not guilty of this sin; for Christ is never tendered unto them, -
they never had an offer of salvation on faith and repentance. This
is their peculiar sin, and will be the peculiar aggravation of their
misery unto eternity. "Hear, ye despisers, wonder, and perish". The
sin of the devil is in malice and opposition unto knowledge, above
what the nature of man is in this world. Men, therefore, must sin in
some instance above the devil, or God would not give them their
eternal portion with the devil and his angels: - this is unbelief.
    Some, it may be, will say, What then shall we do? what shall we
apply ourselves unto? what is it that is required of us?
    1. Take the advice of the apostle, Heb. 3: 7, 8, 13, "Today, if
ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the
provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness. But exhort
one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be
hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." This day, even this, is
unto you in the tender of grace the acceptable time; - this is the
day of salvation. Others have had this day as well as you, and have
missed their opportunity; - take heed lest it should be so with you
also. Now if any one should write it down, or peculiarly commit it
to remembrance, "This day there was a tender of Christ and salvation
in him made unto my soul, - from this time I will resolve to give up
myself unto him," and if you form your resolutions, charge your
consciences with what you have engaged, and make yourselves to know
that if you go back from it, it is a token that you are going to
ruin.
    2. Consider that it is high time for you to make somewhat of
religion. Do not hang always in suspense; let it not be a question
with yourselves, whether you have a mind to be saved or no. This is
as good a time and season for a resolution as ever you are like to
have whilst in this world. Some things, nay, many things, may fall
in between this and the next opportunity, that shall put you
backward, and make your entrance into the kingdom of heaven far more
difficult than ever it was; and the living in that uncertainty at
best, which you do, of what will become of you unto eternity, is the
most miserable kind of life in the world. Those who put far from
them the evil day, and live in the pursuit of lusts and pleasures,
have somewhat that gives them present satisfaction, and they say
not, "There is no hope," because they "find the life of the hand"
[Isa. 57: 10]; but you have nothing that gives you any prevalent
refreshment, neither will your latter end be better than theirs, if
you die without an interest in Christ Jesus. Come, therefore, at
length, unto a determinate resolution what you will do in this
matter. Christ has waited long for you, and who knows how soon he
may withdraw, never to look after you any more?
    Upon occasion of the preceding Discourse concerning the Glory
of Christ, I thought it necessary to add unto it this brief
exhortation unto faith in him, aiming to suit it unto the capacity
of the meanest sinner that is capable of any self-consideration as
unto his eternal welfare. But yet, a little farther to give efficacy
unto this exhortation, it will be necessary to remove some of those
common and obvious tergiversations that convinced sinners do usually
retake themselves unto, to put off a present compliance with the
calls of Christ to come unto him; for although it is unbelief alone,
acting in the darkness of men's minds and the obstinacy of their
wills, that effectually keeps off sinners from coming unto Christ
upon his call, yet it shrouds itself under various pretences, that
it may not appear in its own ugly form. For no sin whereof men can
be guilty in this world is of so horrible a nature, and so dreadful
an aspect, as is this unbelief, where a clear view of it is obtained
in evangelical light. Wherefore, by the aid of Satan, it suggests
other pleas and pretences unto the minds of sinners, under which
they may countenance themselves in a refusal to come to Christ. See
2 Cor. 4: 4. Any thing else it shall be, but not unbelief; - that
they all disavow. I shall therefore speak unto a few of those
tergiversations in this case which are obvious, and which are
exemplified in the Gospel itself.
    First, Some do say, on such exhortations, What is it that you
would have us to do? - We hear the word preached, we believe it as
well as we can, we do many things willingly, and abstain from many
evils diligently; what is more required of us? This is the language
of the hearts of the most with whom in this case we have to do. And
I say, -
    l. It is usual with them who do something in the ways of God,
but not all they should, and so nothing in a due manner, to
expostulate about requiring of them more than they do. So the people
dispute with God himself, Mal. 1: 6, 3: 8, 13. So they in the Gospel
who esteemed themselves to have done their duty, being pressed unto
faith by Christ Jesus, ask him with some indignation, "What shall we
do, that we might work the works of God?" John 6: 28. If what we do
be not enough, what is it that you require more of us? So was it
with the young man, Matt. 19: 20, "What lack I yet?" Be advised,
therefore, not to be too confident of your state, lest you should
yet lack that one thing, the want whereof might prove your eternal
ruin.
    2. The things mentioned, with all of the like nature, which may
be multiplied, may be where there is no one spark of saving faith.
Simon Magus heard the word, and believed as well as he could; -
Herod heard it, and did many things gladly; - and all sorts of
hypocrites do upon their convictions perform many duties, and
abstain from many sins: so as that, notwithstanding this plea, you
may perish for ever.
    3. Where these things are sincere, they belong unto the
exercise of faith; they may be after a sort without faith, but faith
cannot be without them. But there is a fundamental act of faith,
whereby we close with Christ, whereby we receive him, that is, in
order of nature, antecedent unto its acting in all other duties and
occasions; - it is laying the foundation; other things belong to the
building. This is that you are called on to secure; and you may know
it by these two properties: -
    1. It is singular. So our Saviour tells the Jews, John 6: 29,
"This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he has sent."
The act, work, or duty of faith, in the receiving of Christ, is a
peculiar, singular work, wherein the soul yields especial obedience
unto God; - it is not to be reckoned unto such common duties as
those mentioned, but the soul must find out wherein it has in a
singular manner closed with Christ upon the command of God.
    2. It is accompanied with a universal spiritual change in the
whole soul, 2 Cor. 5: 17, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new
creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become
new." Wherefore, if you would not choose rather to deceive and ruin
your own souls, come to the trial whether indeed you have received
Christ in such a singular, transforming act of faith: do not on such
pretences want a compliance with the word of exhortation proposed
unto you. But, -
    Secondly, Some will say, they know not how to proceed in this
work. They can make nothing of it; they have tried to come to this
believing, but do still fail in what they design; they go on and
off, but can make no progress, can come to no satisfaction;
therefore they think it best to let things go in general as they
are, without putting themselves to farther trouble, as unto any
especial act of faith in the receiving of Christ. This is the
language of men's hearts, though not of their mouths, another
shelter of unbelief, - and they act accordingly; they have a secret
despondency, which keeps them safe from attempting a real closure
with Christ on the tender of the Gospel. Something may be offered
unto this distempered frame of mind.
    1. Remember the disciples that were fishing, and had toiled all
night, but caught nothing, Luke 5: 3, 4. Upon the coming of Christ
unto them, he requires that they should cast out their nets once
more; Peter makes some excuse, from the labour which they had taken
in vain all night; however, he would venture once more, on the
command of Christ, and had an astonishing draught of fishes, verses
5-9. Have you been wearied with disappointments in your attempts and
resolutions? Yet cast in your net this once more, upon the command
of Christ, - venture this once more to come unto him on his call and
invitation; you know not what success he may give unto you.
    2. Consider that it is not failing in this or that attempt of
coming to Christ, but a giving over your endeavours, that will be
your ruin. The woman of Canaan, in her great outcry to Christ for
mercy, Matt. 15: 22, had many a repulse. First, it is said, he
answered her not a word; then his disciples desired that he would
send her away, that she might not trouble him any more; whereon he
gives a reason why he would not regard her, or why he could justly
pass her by; she was not an Israelitess, unto whom he was sent; -
yet she gives not over, but pressing into his presence, cries out
for mercy, verse 25. Being come to that issue, to try and draw out
her faith to the utmost, which was his design from the beginning, he
reckons her among dogs, that were not to have children's bread given
unto them. Had she now at last given over upon this severe rebuke,
she had never obtained mercy; but persisting in her request, she at
last prevailed, verses 27, 28. It may be you have prayed, and cried,
and resolved, and vowed, but all without success, as you suppose;
sin has broken through all: however, if you give not over, you shall
prevail at last; you know not at what time God will come in with his
grace, and Christ will manifest his love unto you as unto the poor
woman, after many a rebuke. It may be, after all, he will do it this
day; and if not, he may do it another: do not despond. Take that
word of Christ himself for your encouragement, Prov. 8: 34, "Blessed
is the man that hearth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at
the posts of my doors." If you hear him, and wait, though you have
not yet admission, but are kept at the gates and posts of the doors,
yet in the issue you shall be blessed.
    3. The rule in this case is, Hos. 6: 3, "Then shall we know, if
we follow on to know." Are you in the way of knowing Christ in the
use of means, hearing the word, and sincere endeavours in holy
duties? Though you cannot yet attain unto any evidence that you have
received him, have closed with him, nothing can ruin you but giving
over the way wherein you are; for then shall you know, if you follow
on to know the Lord. Many can give you their experiences, that if
they had been discouraged by present overwhelming difficulties,
arising from their disappointments, breaking of vows, relapses into
folly, they had been utterly ruined; whereas now they are at rest
and peace in the bosom of Christ. On a great surprisal, Christ lost
at once many disciples, and they lost their souls, John 6: 66, "They
went back, and walked no more with him." Take heed of the like
discouragements.
    Thirdly, Some may say, yea, practically they do say, that these
things indeed are necessary; they must come to Christ by believing,
or they are undone; but this is not the season of it, - there will
be time enough to apply themselves unto it when other occasions are
past. At present they have not leisure to enter upon and go through
with this duty; wherefore they will abide in their present state for
a while, hearing and doing many things, and when time serves, will
apply themselves unto this duty also.
    1. This is an uncontrollable evidence of that sottishness and
folly which is come upon our nature by sin, - a depravation that the
apostle places in the head of the evils of corrupted nature, Tit. 3:
1-3. Can any thing be more foolish, sottish, and stupid, than for
men to put off the consideration of the eternal concernment of their
souls for one hour, being altogether uncertain whether they shall
live another or n? - to prefer present triodes before the
blessedness or misery of an immortal state? For those who never
heard of these things, who never had any conviction of sin and
judgement, to put the evil day far from them, is not much to be
admired; but for you who have Christ preached unto you, who own a
necessity of coming unto him, to put it off from day to day upon
such slight pretences, - it is an astonishing folly! May you not be
spoken unto in the language of the Wisdom of God, Prov. 6: 9-11. You
come to hear the word, and when you go away, the language of your
hearts is, "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding
of the hands to sleep;" we will abide a little while in our present
state, and afterward we will rouse up ourselves. Under this deceit
do multitudes perish every day. This is a dark shade, wherein cursed
unbelief lies hid.
    2. Consider that this is the greatest engine that Satan makes
use of in the world among them that hear the word preached unto
them, for the ruin of their souls. He has other arts, and ways, and
methods of dealing with other men, - as by sensual and worldly
lusts; but as unto them who, through their convictions, do attend
unto the preaching of the word, this is his great and almost only
engine for their ruin: There needs no haste in this matter, -
another time will be more seasonable, - you may be sure not to fail
of it before you die; however, this present day and time is most
unfit for it, - you have other things to do, - you cannot part with
your present frame, - you may come again to hear the word the next
opportunity. Know assuredly, if your minds are influenced unto
delays of coming to Christ by such insinuations, you are under the
power of Satan, and he is like enough to hold you fast unto
destruction.
    3. This is as evil and dangerous a posture or frame of mind as
you can well fall under. If you have learned to put off God, and
Christ, and the word for the present season, and yet relieve
yourselves in this, that you do not intend, like others, always to
reject them, but will have a time to hearken to their calls, you are
secured and fortified against all convictions and persuasions, all
fears; one answer will serve for all, - within a little while you
will do all that can be required of you. This is that which ruins
the souls of multitudes every day. It is better dealing with men
openly profligate, than with such a trifling promiser. See Isa. 5:
7, 10.
    4. Remember that the Scripture confines you unto the present
day, without the least intimation that you shall have either another
day, or another tender of grace and mercy in any day, 2 Cor. 6: 2;
Heb. 3: 7, 13; 12: 15. Take care lest you come short of the grace of
God, miss of it by missing your opportunity. Redeem the time, or you
are lost for ever.
    5. As unto the pretence of your occasions and business, there
is a ready way to disappoint the craft of Satan in that pretence, -
namely, to mix thoughts of Christ and the renovation of your
resolutions either to come or to cleave unto him with all your
occasions. Let nothing put it utterly out of your minds; make it
familiar unto you, and you will beat Satan out of that stronghold,
Prov. 7: 4. However, shake yourselves out of this dust, or
destruction lies at the door.
    Fourthly, It is the language of the hearts of some, that if
they give up themselves unto a compliance with this exhortation, and
go seriously about this duty, they must relinquish and renounce all
their lusts and pleasures; yea, much of their converse and society,
wherein they find so much present satisfaction, as that they know
not how to part with them. If they might retain their old ways, at
least some of them, it were another matter; but this total
relinquishment of all is very severe.
    Ans. 1. The Jesuits, preaching and painting of Christ among
some of the Indians, concealed from them his cross and sufferings,
telling them only of his present glory and power; so as they
pretended to win them over to faith in him, hiding from them that
whereby they might be discouraged; and so preached a false Christ
unto them, one of their own framing. We dare do no such thing for
all the world; we can here use no condescension, no compliance, no
composition with respect unto any sin or lust; we have no commission
to grant that request of Lot, "Is it not a little one? let it be
spared;" nor to come to Naaman's terms, "God be merciful to me in
this thing; in all others I will be obedient." Wherefore, -
    2. We must here be peremptory with you, whatever be the event;
if you are discouraged by it, we cannot help it. Cursed be the man
that shall encourage you to come to Christ with hopes of indulgence
unto any one sin whatever. I speak not this as though you could at
once absolutely and perfectly leave all sin, in the root and
branches of it; but only you are to do it in heart and resolution,
engaging unto a universal mortification of all sin, as by grace from
above you shall be enabled; but your choice must be absolute,
without reserves, as to love, interest, and design; - God or the
world, - Christ or Belial, - holiness or sin; there is no medium, no
terms of composition, 2 Cor. 6: 15-18.
    As unto what you pretend of your pleasures, the truth is, you
never yet had any real pleasure, nor do know what it is. How easy
were it to declare the folly, vanity, bitterness, poison of those
things which you have esteemed your pleasures! Here alone - namely,
in Christ, and a participation of him - are true pleasures and
durable riches to be obtained; pleasure of the same nature with, and
such as, like pleasant streams, flow down into the ocean of eternal
pleasures above. A few moments in these joys are to be preferred
above the longest continuance in the cursed pleasures of this world.
See Prov. 3: 13-18.
    Fifthly, It will be said by some, that they do not see those
who profess themselves to be believers, to be so much better than
they are, as that you need to press us so earnestly to so great a
change; we know not why we should not be accounted believers
already, as well as they. I shall in a few words, as well as I am
able, lay this stumbling-block out of the way, though I confess, at
this day, it is weighty and cumbersome. And I say, -
    1. Among them that profess themselves to be believers, there
are many false, corrupt hypocrites; and it is no wonder that on
various occasions they lay the stumbling-block of their iniquities
before the faces of others; but they shall bear their own burden and
judgement.
    2. It is acknowledged, it must be bewailed, that some whom we
have reason to judge to be true believers, yet, through their
unfortified pride, or covetousness, or carelessness in their
conversation, or vain attire and conformity to the world, or
forwardness, do give just occasion of offence. We confess that God
is displeased herewith, Christ and the Gospel dishonoured, and many
that are weak are wounded, and others discouraged. But as for you,
this is not your rule, - this is not proposed unto you; but that
word only is so that will never fail you.
    3. The world does not know, nor is able to make a right
judgement of believers; nor do you so, for it is the spiritual man
alone that discerneth the things of God. Their infirmities are
visible to all, - their graces invisible; the King's daughter is
glorious within. And when you are able to make a right judgement of
them, you will desire no greater advancement than to be of their
society, Ps. 16: 3.
    These few instances of the pretences wherewith unbelief covers
its deformity, and hides that destruction wherewith it is
accompanied, may suffice unto our present purpose; they are
multiplied in the minds of men, impregnated by the suggestions of
Satan on their darkness and folly. A little spiritual wisdom will
rend the veil of them all, and expose unbelief acting in enmity
against Christ under them. But what has been spoken may suffice to
answer the necessity of the preceding exhortation on this occasion.
    
    
    
    
Chapter 2.


The Way and Means of the Recovery of Spiritual Decays, and of
Obtaining Fresh Springs of Grace.
    
    
    The application of the same truth, in the second place, belongs
unto relievers, especially such as have made any long profession of
walking in the ways of God and the gospel. And that which I design
herein, is to manifest, that a steady spiritual view of the glory of
Christ by faith, will give them a gracious revival from inward
decays, and fresh springs of grace, even in their latter days. A
truth this is, as we shall see, confirmed by Scripture, with the
joyful experience of multitudes of believers, and is of great
importance unto all that are so.
    There are two things which those who, after a long profession
of the gospel, are entering into the confines of eternity do long
for and desire. The one is, that all their breaches may be repaired,
their decays recovered, their backsliding healed; for unto these
things they have been less or more obnoxious in the course of their
walking before God. The other is, that they may have fresh springs
of spiritual life, and vigorous acting of all divine graces, in
spiritual-mindedness, holiness, and fruitfulness, unto the praise of
God, the honour of the gospel, and the increase of their own peace
and joy. These things they value more than all the world, and all
that is in it; about these things are their thoughts and
contrivances exercised night and day. Those with whom it is
otherwise, whatever they pretend, are in the dark unto themselves
and their own condition; for it is in the nature of this grace to
grow and increase unto the end. As rivers, the nearer they come unto
the ocean whither they tend, the more they increase their waters,
and speed their streams; so will grace flow more freely and fully in
its near approaches to the ocean of glory. That is not saving which
does not so.
    An experience hereof - I mean of the thriving of grace towards
the end of our course - is that alone which can support us under the
troubles and temptations of life, which we have to conflict withal.
So the apostle tells us, that this is our great relief in all our
distresses and afflictions, "for which cause we faint not; but
though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by
day," 2 Cor. 4: 16. If it be so, that in the daily decays of the
outward man, in all the approaches of its dissolution, we have
inward spiritual revivals and renovation, we shall not faint in what
we undergo. And without such continual renovations, we shall faint
in our distresses, whatever other things we may have, or whatever we
pretend unto the contrary.
    And ordinarily it is so, in the holy, wise providence of God,
that afflictions and troubles increase with age. It is so, in an
especial manner, with ministers of the gospel; they have many of
them a share in the lot of Peter, which our Lord Jesus Christ
declared unto him, John 21: 18, "When thou wast young, thou girdedst
thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be
old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird
thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." Besides those
natural distemper and infirmities which accompany the decays of
life, troubles of life, and in their affairs, do usually grow upon
them, when they look for nothing less, but were ready to say with
Job, "We shall die in our nest," Job 29: 18. So was it with Jacob,
after all his hard labour and travail to provide for his family,
such things fell out in it in his old age as had almost broken his
heart. And oft times both persecutions and public dangers do befall
them at the same season. Whilst the outward man is thus perishing,
we need great supportment, that we faint not. And this is only to be
had in an experience of daily spiritual renovations in the inner
man.
    The excellency of this mercy the Psalmist expresseth in a
heavenly manner, Ps. 92: 12-15, "The righteous shall flourish like
the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be
planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our
God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be
fat and flourishing; to show that the LOBD is upright: he is my
rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him."
    The promise in the 12th verse respects the times of the
Messiah, or of the New Testament; for so it is prophesied of him,
"In his days the righteous shall flourish," Ps. 72: 7, - namely,
through the abundance of grace that should be administered from his
fulness, as John 1: 16; Col. 1: 19. And herein consists the glory of
the gospel, and not in outward prosperity or external ornaments of
divine worship. The flourishing of the righteous, I say, in grace
and holiness is the glory of the office of Christ and of the gospel.
Where this is not, there is no glory in the profession of our
religion. The glory of kings is in the wealth and peace of their
subjects; and the glory of Christ is in the grace and holiness of
his subjects.
    This flourishing is compared to the palm-tree, and the growth
of the cedar. The palm-tree is of the greatest verdure, beauty, and
fruitfulness, and the cedar of the greatest and longest growth of
any trees. So are the righteous compared to the palm-tree for the
beauty of profession and fruitfulness in obedience; and unto the
cedar for a continual, constant growth and increase in grace. Thus
it is with all that are righteous, unless it be from their own
sinful neglect, as it is with many in this day. They are hereon
rather like the shrubs and heaths in the wilderness, which see not
when good comes, than like the palm-tree or the cedars of Lebanon.
And hereby do men what lies in them to obscure the glory of Christ
and his kingdom, as well as disquiet their own souls.
    The words that follow, verse 13, "Those that be planted in the
house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God," are not
distinctive of some from other, as though some only of the
nourishing righteous were so planted; but they are descriptive of
them all, with an addition of the way and means whereby they are
caused so to grow and flourish. And this is, their implantation in
the house of the Lord; - that is, in the church, which is the seat
of all the means of spiritual life, both as unto growth and
flourishing, which God is pleased to grant unto believers. To be
planted in the house of the Lord, is to be fixed and rooted in the
grace communicated by the ordinances of divine worship. Unless we
are planted in the house of the Lord, we cannot flourish in his
courts. See Ps. 1: 3. Unless we are partakers of the grace
administered in the ordinances, we cannot flourish in a fruitful
profession. The outward participation of them is common unto
hypocrites, that bear some leaves, but neither grow like the cedar
nor bear fruit like the palm-tree. So the apostle prays for
believers, that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith, that they
may be "rooted and grounded in love," Eph. 3: 17, - "rooted, built
up, and established," Col. 2: 7. The want hereof is the cause that
we have so many fruitless professors; they have entered the courts
of God by profession, but were never planted in his house by faith
and love. Let us not deceive ourselves herein; - we may be entered
into the church, and made partakers of the outward privileges of it,
and not be so planted in it as to flourish in grace and
fruitfulness.
    That which on this occasion I principally intend, is the grace
and privilege expressed, verse 14, "They shall still bring forth
fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing." There be three
things which constitute a spiritual state, or belong to the life of
God. 1. That believers be fat; that is, by the heavenly juice, sap,
or fatness of the true olive, of Christ himself, as Rom. 11: 17.
This is the principle of spiritual life and grace derived from him.
When this abounds in them, so as to give them strength and vigour in
the exercise of grace, to keep them from decays and withering, they
are said to be fat; which, in the Scripture phrase, is strong and
healthy. 2. That they flourish in the greenness (as the word is) and
verdure of profession; for vigorous grace will produce a flourishing
profession. 3. That they still bring forth fruit in all duties of
holy obedience. All these are promised unto them even in old age.
    Even trees, when they grow old (the palm and the cedar), are
apt to lose of their juice and verdure: and men in old age are
subject unto all sorts of decays, both outward and inward. It is a
rare thing to see a man in old age naturally vigorous, healthy, and
strong; and would it were not more rare to see any spiritually so at
the same season! But this is here promised unto believers as an
especial grace and privilege, beyond what can be represented in the
growth or fruit-bearing of plants and trees.
    The grace intended is, that when believers are under all sorts
of bodily and natural decays, and, it may be, have been overtaken
with spiritual decays also, there is provision made in the covenant
to render them fat, flourishing, and fruitful, - vigorous in the
power of internal grace, and flourishing in the expression of it in
all duties of obedience; which is that which we now inquire after.
    Blessed be God for this good word of his grace, that he has
given us such encouragement against all the decays and temptations
of old age which we have to conflict withal!
    And the Psalmist, in the next words, declares the greatness of
this privilege: "To show that the LORD is upright; he is my rock,
and there is no unrighteousness in him." Consider the oppositions
that lie against the flourishing of believers in old age, the
difficulties of it, the temptations that must be conquered, the
acting of the mind above its natural abilities which are decayed the
weariness that is apt to befall us in a long spiritual conflict, the
cries of the flesh to be spared, and we shall see it to be an
evidence of the faithfulness, power, and righteousness of God in
covenant; - nothing else could produce this mighty effect. So the
prophet, treating of the same promise, Hos. 14: 4-8, closes his
discourse with that blessed remark, verse 9, "Who is wise, and he
shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for
the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them."
Spiritual wisdom will make us to see that the faithfulness and power
of God are exerted in this work of preserving believers flourishing
and fruitful unto the end.
    Having laid the foundation of this illustrious testimony, I
shall farther declare and confirm my intention, so to make way for
the application of the truth under consideration unto this case, -
manifesting that the way whereby we may be made partakers of this
grace, is by a steady view of the glory of Christ, as proposed to us
in the Gospel.
    There is a latter spring in the year, a spring in autumn; it
is, indeed, for the most part, but faint and weak, - yet is it such
as the husbandman cannot spare. And it is an evident sign of barren
ground, when it does not put forth afresh towards the end of the
year. God, the good husband man, looks for the same from us,
especially if we had a summer's drought in spiritual decays; as the
Psalmist complains, Ps. 32: 4. Had we not had a latter spring the
last year, the land had greatly suffered under the drought of the
summer. And if we have had such a drought in the course of our
profession by spiritual decays, as God, the good husband man, looks
for a latter spring in us, even in old age, in the vigorous acting
of grace and fruitful obedience; so without it we can neither have
peace nor joy in our own souls. If a man, therefore, has made a
great appearance of religion in his former or younger days, and when
he is growing into age becomes dead, cold, worldly, selfish, - if he
have no fresh springs of spiritual life in him, it is an evidence
that he has a barren heart, that was never really fruitful to God. I
know that many stand in need of being excited by such warning unto a
diligent consideration of their state and condition.
    It is true, that the latter spring does not bring forth the
same fruit with the former. There is no more required in it but that
the ground evidence itself to be in good heart, and put forth that
which is proper unto the season. It may be, such graces as were
active and vigorous in men at their first conversion unto God, as
were carried in a stream of warm, natural affections, may not so
eminently abound in the latter spring of old age; but those which
are proper for the season - as namely, spirituality,
heavenly-mindedness, weanedness from the world, readiness for the
cross and death - are necessary, even in old age, to evidence that
we have a living principle of grace, and to show thereby that God is
upright; He is our rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
    What is farther to be insisted one shall be reduced unto these
four heads: -
    I. That the constitution of spiritual life is such as is meet
to thrive, grow, and increase unto the end, and will do so, unless
it be from the default of them in whom it is.
    II. That notwithstanding this nature and constitution of
spiritual life, yet believers are subject unto many decays, partly
gradual, and partly by surprisals in temptation, whereby the growth
of it is obstructed, unto the dishonour of the gospel and the loss
of their own peace with joy.
    III. I shall show that such at present is the condition of many
professors, - namely that they are visibly fallen under spiritual
decays, and do not evidence any interest in the blessed promise
insisted on.
    IV. On the confirmation of these things, our inquiry will be,
how such persons may be delivered from such decays, and by what
means they may obtain the grace here promised, of spiritual
flourishing in old age, both in the strengthening of the inward
principle of life and abounding in fruits of obedience, which are to
the praise of God by Jesus Christ; and then we shall make
application unto this case of that truth which is the subject of the
preceding discourse.
    I. The constitution of spiritual life is such as is meet to
grow and increase unto the end. Hereby it does distinguish itself
from that faith which is temporary; for there is a temporary faith,
which will both flourish for a season and bring forth some fruit;
but it is not in its nature and constitution to abide, to grow and
increase, but rather to decay and wither. It is described by our
Lord Jesus Christ, Matt. 13: 20, 21. Either some great temptation
extinguishes it, or it decays insensibly, until the mind wherein it
was do manifest itself to be utterly barren. And, therefore, whoever
is sensible of any spiritual decays, he is called unto a severe
trial and examination of himself, as unto the nature of the
principle of his profession and obedience; for such decays do rather
argue a principle of temporary faith only, unto which they are
proper and natural, than that whose nature it is to thrive and grow
to the end, whereon those that have it shall, as it is in the
promise, still bring forth fruit, and, without their own great
guilt, be always freed from such decays.
    That this spiritual life is in its nature and constitution such
as will abide, thrive, and grow to the end, is three ways testified
unto in the Scripture.
    1. In that it is compared unto things of the most infallible
increase and progress; for besides that its growth is frequently
likened unto that of plants and trees well watered, and in a
fruitful soil, which fail not to spring, unless it be from some
external violence; it is likewise compared unto such things as whose
progress is absolutely infallible, Prov. 4: 18, "The path of the
just is, as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the
perfect day." The path of the just is his covenant-walk before God,
as it is frequently called in the Scripture, Ps. 119: 35,105; Isa.
26: 7; Ps. 23: 3; Matt. 3: 3; Heb. 12: 13; and it compriseth the
principle, profession, and fruits of it. This, saith the wise man,
is as the shining light; that is, the morning light. And wherein is
it so? Why, as that goes on by degrees, and shineth more and more
unto the high noon (though it may be interrupted sometimes by clouds
and storms); so is this path of the just, - it goes on and
increaseth unto the high noon, the perfect day of glory. It is in
its nature so to do, though it may sometimes meet with obstructions,
as we shall see afterward; and so does the morning light also.
    There is no visible difference, as unto light, between the
light of the morning and the light of the evening; yea, this latter
sometimes, from gleams of the setting sun, seems to be more glorious
than the other. But herein they differ: the first goes on gradually
unto more light, until it comes to perfection; the other gradually
gives place unto darkness, until it comes to be midnight. So is it
as unto the light of the just and of the hypocrite, and so is it as
unto their paths. At first setting out they may seem alike and
equal; yea, convictions and spiritual gifts acted with corrupt ends
in some hypocrites, may for a time give a greater lustre of
profession than the grace of others sincerely converted unto God may
attain unto. But herein they discover their different natures: the
one increaseth and goes on constantly, though it may be sometimes
but faintly; the other decays, grows dim, gives place to darkness
and crooked walking.
    This, then, is the nature of the path of the just; and where it
is otherwise with us in our walk before God, we can have no evidence
that we are in that path, or that we have a living, growing
principle of spiritual life in us. And it is fit that professors of
all sorts should be minded of these things; for we may see not a few
of them under visible decays, without any sincere endeavours after a
recovery, who yet please themselves that the root of the matter is
in them. It is so, if love of the world, conformity unto it,
negligence in holy duties, and coldness in spiritual love, be an
evidence of such decays. But let none deceive their own souls;
wherever there is a living principle of grace, it will be thriving
and growing unto the end. And if it fall under obstructions, and
thereby into decays for a season, it will give no rest or quietness
unto the soul wherein it is, but will labour continually for a
recovery. Peace in a spiritually-decaying condition, is a
soul-ruining security; better be under terror on the account of
surprisal into some sin, than be in peace under evident decays of
spiritual life.
    And, by the way, this comparing of the path of the just unto
the morning light minds me of what I have seen more than once. That
light has sometimes cheerfully appeared unto the world, when, after
a little season, by reason of clouds, tempests, and storms, it has
given place again to darkness, like that of the night; but it has
not so been lost and buried like the evening light. After a while it
has recovered itself unto a greater lustre than before, manifesting
that it increased in itself whilst it was eclipsed as to us. So has
it been with not a few at their first conversion unto God: great
darkness and trouble have, by the efficacy of temptation and
injections of Satan, possessed their minds; but the grace which they
have receded, being as the morning light, has after a while
disentangled itself, and given evidence that it was so far from
being extinguished, as that it grew and thrived under all those
clouds and darkness; for the light of the just does in the issue
always increase by temptations, as that of the hypocrite is
constantly impaired by them.
    Again, as it is as the morning light, than which nothing has a
more assured progress; so it is called by our Saviour "living
water," John 4: 10, yea, "a well of water, springing up into
everlasting life," verse 14. It is an indeficient spring, - not a
pool or pond, though never so large, which may be dried up. Many
such pools of light, gifts, and profession, have we seen utterly
dried up, when they have come into age, or been ensnared by the
temptations of the world. And we may see others every day under
dangerous decays; their countenances are changed, and they have lost
that oil which makes the face of a believer to shine, - namely, the
oil of love, meekness, self denial, and spirituality of converse;
and instead thereof, there is spread upon them the fulsome ointment
of pride, self-love, earthly-mindedness, which increaseth on them
more and more. But where this principle of spiritual life is, it is
as the morning light, as an indeficient spring that never fails, nor
can do so, until it issue in eternal life. And sundry other ways
there are whereby the same truth is asserted in the Scripture.
    2. There are sundry divine promises given unto believers that
so it shall be, or to secure them of such supplies of grace as shall
cause their spiritual life to grow, increase, and flourish unto the
end; such as that in the psalm which we have considered. For these
promises are the means whereby this spiritual life is originally
communicated unto us, and whereby it is preserved in us; by them are
we made partakers of this divine nature, 2 Pet. 1: 4; and through
them is it continued in us. Now [as to] promises of this nature, -
namely, that by the dispensation of the Spirit of Christ, and
supplies of his grace, our spiritual life shall flourish, and be
made fruitful to the end, - I shall briefly call over one of them
only at present, which is recorded, Isa. 44: 3, 4, "I will pour
water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I
will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine
offspring: and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows
by the water-courses."
    Although this promise may have respect unto the gracious
dealing of God with the people of the Jews after their return from
the captivity, yet has it so only as it was typical of the
redemption of the church by Jesus Christ; but it belongs properly to
the times of the gospel, when the righteous were to flourish, and it
is a promise of the new covenant, as is manifest in that it is not
only given unto believers, but is also extended unto their seed and
offspring; which is an assured signature of new covenant promises.
And here is, - 1. A supposition of what we are in ourselves, both
before and after our conversion unto God, - namely, as thirsty, dry,
and barren ground. We have nothing in ourselves, no radical moisture
to make us flourishing and fruitful. And as it is before, so it is
after conversion: "We are not sufficient of ourselves; our
sufficiency is of God," 2 Cor. 3: 5. Being left to ourselves, we
should utterly wither and perish. But, - 2. Here is the blessed
relief which God in this case has provided; he will pour the
sanctifying water of his Spirit and the blessing of his grace upon
us. And this he will so do as to cause us to spring up as among the
grass, as willows by the water-courses. There is nothing of a more
eminent and almost visible growth than willows by the water-courses.
Such shall be the spiritual growth of believers under the influences
of these promises; that is, they shall be fat and flourishing, and
still bring forth fruit. And other promises of the same nature there
are many; but we must observe three things concerning them, that we
may be satisfied in their accomplishment. As, -
    (1.) The promises of the new covenant, as unto the first
communication of grace unto the elect, are absolute and
unconditional; they are the executive conveyances of God's immutable
purposes and decrees. And what should be the condition of the
communication of the first grace unto us? Nothing that is not grace
can be so. If it be said that this also is of God in us, which is
the condition of the communication of the first saving grace unto
us, then I would know whether that be bestowed upon us without any
condition. If it be, then that is the first grace, as being
absolutely free; if it be not, then what is the condition whereon it
is bestowed? concerning which the same inquiry must be made, - and
so for ever. But this is the glory of covenant promises, that, as
unto the communication of the grace of conversion and sanctification
unto the elect, they are absolutely free and unconditionate. But, -
    (2.) The promises which respect the growth, degrees, and
measures of this grace in believers are not so. There are many
duties required of us, that these promises may be accomplished
towards us and in us; yea, watchful diligence in universal gospel
obedience is expected from us unto this end. See 2 Pet. 1: 4-10.
This is the ordinary method of the communication of all supplies of
grace to make us spiritually flourish and be fruitful, - namely,
that we be found in the diligent exercise of what we have received.
God does sometimes deal otherwise, in a way of sovereignty, and
surpriseth men with healing grace in the midst of their decays and
backsliding; as Isa. 57: 17, 18. So has many a poor soul been
delivered from going down into the pit. The good shepherd will go
out of his way to save a wandering sheep; but this is the ordinary
method.
    (3.) Notwithstanding these blessed promises of growth,
flourishing, and fruitfulness, if we are negligent in the due
improvement of the grace which we have received, and the discharge
of the duties required of us, we may fall into decays, and be kept
in a low, unthrifty state all our days. And this is the principal
ground of the discrepancy between the glory and beauty of the
church, as represented in the promises of the Gospel, and as
exemplified in the lives and walking of professors, - they do not
live up unto the condition of their accomplishment in them; howbeit,
in God's way and time they shall be all fulfilled. We have,
therefore, innumerable blessed promises concerning the thriving,
growing, and flourishing of the principle of spiritual life in us,
even in old age and until death; but the grace promised unto this
end will not befall us whilst we are asleep in spiritual sloth and
security. Fervent prayer, the exercise of all grace received, with
watchfulness unto all holy duties, are required hereunto.
    3. God has secured the growth of this spiritual life, by the
provision of food for it, whereby it may be strengthened and
increased; for life must be preserved by food. And this in our case
is the Word of God, with all other ordinances of divine worship
which depend thereon, 1 Pet. 2: 2, 3. Whatever the state of this
life be, - whether in its beginning, its progress, its decays, -
there is suitable nourishment provided for it in the good Word of
God's grace. If men will neglect their daily food that is provided
for them, it is no wonder if they be weak and thriftless. And if
believers are not earnest in their desires after this food, - if
they are not diligent in providing of it, attending unto it, - much
more if, through corruptions and temptations, they count it, in the
preaching of it, light and common food, which they do not value, -
it is no wonder if they fall into spiritual decays; but God has
herein provided for our growth even unto old age.
    And this is the first thing which was proposed unto
confirmation, namely, that the constitution and nature of spiritual
life is such as to be in deficient, so as to thrive and grow even in
old age, and unto the end.
    II. The second thing proposed is, that notwithstanding all this
provision for the growth of spiritual life in us, believers,
especially in a long course of profession, are subject to decays,
such as may cast them into great perplexities, and endanger their
eternal ruin.
    And these spiritual decays are of two sorts. 1. Such as are
gradual and universal, in the loss of the vigour and life of grace,
both in its principle and in its excellence. 2. Such as are
occasioned by surprisal into sin through the power of temptation; I
mean such sins as do waste the spiritual powers of the soul, and
deprive it of all solid peace.
    As for temporary believers, give them but time enough in this
world, especially if it be accompanied with outward prosperity or
persecution; and, for the most part, their decays of one sort or
another will make a discovery of their hypocrisy. Though they retain
a form of godliness, they deny the power of it, Prov. 1: 31; 2 Tim.
3: 5. And if they do not openly relinquish all duties of religion,
yet they will grow so lifeless and savourless in them, as shall
evidence their condition; for so it is with them who are lukewarm,
who are neither hot nor cold, who have a name to live, but are dead.
    And herein lieth a signal difference in this matter between
sincere believers and those who believe only for a time; for those
of the latter sort do either not perceive their sickness and decays,
- their minds being taken up and possessed with other things, - or
if they do find that it is not with them as it has been formerly,
they are not much concerned, and on any occasional new conviction
they cry, "Yet a little more slumber, a little more sleep, a little
more folding of the hands to sleep;" but when the other do find any
thing of this nature, it makes them restless for a recovery. And
although, through the many snares, temptations, and deceits of sin,
or through their ignorance of the right way for their healing, they
do not many of them obtain a speedy recovery, yet none of them do
approve themselves in such a condition, or turn unto any undue
reliefs.
    Now, that believers are subject to decays in both the ways
mentioned, we have full testimony in Scripture; for as unto that
general, gradual decay, in the loss of our first faith, love, and
works, in the weakening of the internal principle of spiritual life,
with the loss thereon of delight, joy, and consolation, and the
abatement of the fruits of obedience, our Lord Jesus Christ does
expressly charge it on five of the seven churches of Asia, Rev. 2,
3. And in some of them, as Sardis and Laodicea, those decays had
proceeded unto such a degree, as that they were in danger of utter
rejection. And hereunto answers the experience of all churches and
all believers in the world. Those who are otherwise minded are dead
in sin, and have got pretences to countenance themselves in their
miserable condition. So is it with the Church of Rome; and I wish
others did not in some measure follow them therein.
    And as unto those of the second sort, whereinto men are cast by
surprisals and temptations, producing great spiritual distress and
anguish of soul, under a sense of God's displeasure, we have an
instance in David, as he gives us an account of himself, Ps. 38:
1-10, "O Lord, thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth
me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger;
neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine
iniquities are gone over mine head; as an heavy burden they are too
heavy for me. My wounds stink, and are corrupt, because of my
foolishness," &c
    It is certain that here is a description of a very woeful state
and condition; and the Psalmist, knowing that he was called of God
to be a teacher and instructor of the church in all ages, records
his own experience unto that end. Hence the title of it is, "A Psalm
to bring to remembrance." Some judge that David had respect unto
some great and sore disease that he was then visited withal. But if
it were so, it was only an occasion of his complaint; the cause of
it was sin alone. And four things he does represent. 1. That he had
departed from God, and fallen into provoking sins, which had
produced great distresses in his mind, verses 3, 4. 2. That he had
foolishly continued in that state, not making timely application to
grace and mercy for healing, whereby it was grown deplorable, verse
5. And this folly is that alone which makes such a condition
dangerous, - namely, when men, on their surprise]s in sin, do not
speedily apply themselves unto healing remedies. 3. That he had
herein a continual sense of the displeasure of God by reason of sin,
verses 2-4. 4. That he was altogether restless in this state,
mourning, groaning, labouring continually for deliverance.
    This is a clearer delineation of the condition of believers,
when, either by the greatness of any sin, or by a long continuance
in an evil and a careless frame, they are cast under a sense of
divine displeasure. This opens their minds and their hearts,
declaring how all things are within, which they cannot deny. It is
not so with many, in the same measures and degrees, as it was with
David, whose falls were very great; but the substance of it is found
in them all. And herein the heart knoweth its own bitterness; a
stranger intermeddleth not with it: none knows the groaning and
labouring of a soul convinced of such spiritual decays, but he alone
in whom they are. Hereon is it cast down to the earth, going
mourning all the day long, though others know nothing of its
sorrows: but it is of a far more sad consideration, to see men
manifesting their inward decays by their outward fruits, and yet are
little or not at all concerned therein. The former are in ways of
recovery; these in the paths that go down to the chambers of death.
    I suppose, therefore, I may take it for granted, that there are
few professors of religion, who have had any long continuance in the
ways of it, having withal been exposed unto the temptations of life,
and much exercised with the occasions of it, but that they have been
asleep in their days, as the spouse complains of herself, Cant. 5:
2; that is, they have been overtaken with decays of one sort or
another, either with respect unto spiritual or moral duties, - in
their relation unto churches or families, in their judgements or
their affections, in their inward frames or outward actions, they
have been overtaken with the effects of sloth, negligence, or the
want of a continual watch in the life of faith. I wish it were
otherwise.
    I principally herein intend those gradual declensions in the
life and power of grace which men in a long course of profession are
subject unto. And these for the most part proceed from formality in
holy duties, under the constant outward performance of them;
vehement engagements in the affairs of life, an over valuation of
sinful enjoyments, growth in carnal wisdom, neglect of daily
mortification of such sins as men are naturally disposed unto, with
a secret influence from the prevalent temptation of the days wherein
we live; - which things are not now to be spoken unto.
    III. But I come to that which was proposed in the third place,
- namely, to show that this at present is the state of many
professors of religion, that they are fallen under those spiritual
decays, and do not enjoy the effects of the promises concerning
flourishing and fruitfulness, which we have insisted on. To fasten a
conviction on them, or some of them at least, that it is indeed so
with them, is my present design; and this ought to be done with some
diligence. The glory of Christ, the honour of the Gospel, and the
danger of the souls of men do call for it. This is the secret root
of all our evil, which will not be removed unless it be digged up.
Who sees not, who complains not of the loss of, or decays in, the
power of religion in the days wherein we live? But few there are who
either know or apply themselves, or direct others, unto the proper
remedy of this evil. Besides, it is almost as difficult to convince
men of their spiritual decays as it is to recover them from them;
but without this, healing is impossible. If men know not their
sickness, they will not seek for a cure. Some, when they see their
sickness and their wound, will apply themselves unto wrong, useless
remedies, like them in the prophet Hosea, 5: 13. None will make use
of any cure who see no disease at all. Wherefore, to fasten a
conviction hereof on the minds of some, we may make use of the
ensuing inquiries and observations.
    1. Have you, in the way of your profession, had any experience
of these spiritual decays? I doubt not but that there are some who
have been preserved green and flourishing from their first
conversion unto God, who never fell under the power of sloth,
neglect, or temptation, at least not for any remarkable season; but
they are but few. It was not so with scarce any of those believers
under the Old Testament whose lives and walkings are recorded for
our instruction; and they must be such as lived in an exact and
diligent course of mortification. And some there are who have
obtained relief and deliverance from under their decays, - whose
backsliding have been healed, and their diseases cured. So it was
with David, as he divinely expresseth it, Ps. 103: 1,3-5, "Bless the
LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Who
forgiveth all thine iniquities; who health all thy diseases: who
redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with
loving-kindness and tender mercies: who satisfieth thy mouth with
good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's." So does
he celebrate his deliverance from that state whereof he complains,
Ps. 38, - which we mentioned before. And there is no grace or mercy
that does more affect the hearts of believers, that gives them a
greater transport of joy and thankfulness, than this of deliverance
from backsliding. It is a bringing of the soul out of prison, which
enlargeth it unto praise, Ps. 142: 7. Of this sort I doubt not but
that there are many; for God has given great warnings of the danger
of a spiritually-decaying state; and he has made great promises of
recovery from it; and multitudes in the church are daily exercised
herein. But I speak in general unto all. Have you any experience of
such spiritual decays, either in the frame of your spirits or in the
manner of your walking before God; or, at least, that you are prone
unto them, if not mightily preserved by the power of grace in your
own utmost diligence? If you have not so, then I fear it is from one
of these two causes: -
    (1.) That, indeed, you have never had any flourishing spiritual
state in your souls. He that has been always weak and sickly does
not know what it is to want a state of health and strength, because
he never had experience of it; much less does he that is dead know
what it is to want life. But he that from an exquisite temper of
health falls into languishing distemper, knows distinctly both how
it was and how it is with him. And the frame of the minds of many
professors of religion, with the manner of their walking, is such,
as that, if they are not sensible of spiritual decays, it is evident
that they never had any good spiritual health; and it is to no
purpose to treat with such persons about a recovery. There are,
amongst those who make an outward profession of true religion, many
that live in all sorts of sins. If you should deal with them about
backsliding, decays, and a recovery, you will seem unto them as Lot
did to his sons-in-law, when he told them of the destruction of
Sodom, - as one that mocked, or made sport with them, Gen. 19: 14;
or you will be mocked by them for your pains. They have been always
such as they are; it was never otherwise with them; and it is a
ridiculous thing to speak to them of a recovery. We must be able in
this case to say to men, "Remember whence you are fallen, and
repent, and do the first works," Rev. 2: 5. They must have had an
experience of a better state, or they will not endeavour a recovery
from that wherein they are. Such, therefore, as see neither evil nor
danger in their present condition, but suppose all is well enough
with them, because it is as good as ever it was, will not easily be
brought under this conviction; but they have that which is of no
less importance for them to inquire into, - namely, whether they
have had any thing of the truth of grace or no. Or, -
    (2.) If you have not this experience, it is to be feared that
you are asleep in security, - which is hardly distinguishable from
death in sin. The church of Laodicea was sensibly decayed, and gone
off from its primitive faith and obedience; yet she was so secure,
in her condition, knew so little of it, that she judged herself, on
the contrary, to be in a thriving, flourishing state. She thought
herself increased in all church riches and goods, - that is, gifts
and grace, - while "she was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and
blind, and naked," Rev. 3: 17; in such a state as wherein it is
questionable whether she had any thing of the life and power of
grace to be found in her or no. And so is it with many churches at
this day, especially that which boasts itself to be without error or
blame. And it is strange that a church should suppose that it
flourisheth in grace and gifts, when it has nothing but a noise of
words in their stead.
    So God testified concerning Ephraim, that "grey hairs were
sprinkled on him, yet he knew it not," Hos. 7: 9. He was in a
declining, dying condition, but did not understand it. Hence it is
added, "They do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for
all this," verse 10. If men will not learn and own their spiritual
decays, there is no hope of prevailing with them to return unto the
Lord. "The whole have no need of a physician, but the sick;" Christ
"came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Such
persons are under the power of a stupid security, from whence it
will be very hard to rouse them up. Hence it is that we have so
little success for the most part in calling persons to look after a
revival and recovery of their decays; they acknowledge no such thing
in themselves, - such calls may belong unto others; yea, if any word
seem to come near them unto their disquietment, they are apt to
think it was spoken out of spite and ill-will towards them: they
approve of themselves in their present condition. Hence is the
complaint of Christ in the ministry of the Word, "I have called, and
ye have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded.
Ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof,"
Prov. 1: 24, 25. Hence, let this truth be pressed a thousand times,
it is not one of a thousand who will think himself so concerned as
to apply himself unto a relief. A spirit of slumber seems to be
poured on many.
    2. To improve this conviction, I would ask of some, whether
they have been able to maintain spiritual peace and joy in their
souls. I take it for granted that ordinarily they are inseparable
adjuncts of the life of faith, in an humble, fruitful walk before
God. The Scripture testifieth that they are so; and no experience
lies against it in ordinary cases. And I suppose that those unto
whom I speak do in some measure know what they are, and do not
delude themselves with fancies and imaginations: they have substance
in them, however by some derided, and to some unknown. Have this
peace and joy been maintained and borne away in your minds? Have
they under all trials and surprisals been quickly composed by them?
or are you not rather on all occasions uneasy and perplexed? This is
certain, that a decaying spiritual state and solid spiritual peace
are inconsistent; and if ever you had such peace, you may by the
loss of it know into what state you are come.
    3. Not to inquire farther into things internal and hidden,
wherein men may justify themselves if they please, there are too
many open, visible evidences of these decays among professors of
religion; they have not kept them from the eyes of the church, nor
yet from the world. Do not pride, selfishness, worldliness, levity
of attire, and vanity of life, with corrupt, unsavoury
communication, abound among many? The world was never in a worse
posture for conformity than it is at this day, wherein all flesh has
corrupted its way; and yet, as to things of outward appearance, how
little distinction is left between it and those who would be
esteemed more strict professors of religion! Was this the way and
manner of the saints of old, - of those that went before us in the
same profession? Was it so with ourselves in the time of our first
espousals, when we went after God in the wilderness, in a land that
was not sown? as Jer. 2: 2. Some understand what I say: if we have
not, some of us, had better days, we never had good days in our
lives; if we have had them, why do we not stir up ourselves to look
after a recovery?
    4. May not God say of many of us what he said of his people of
old, "Thou hast been weary of me, O Israel? " Isa. 43: 22. Have we
not been weary of God, until we have abundant cause to be weary of
ourselves? The most, I presume, will be ready, with them in Malachi,
to say, "How or wherein have we been weary of God?" Do we not abide,
yea, abound, in the duties of his service? What can be more required
of us? Wherein are we to blame? This were something indeed, but that
it is often so, that men are weary of God when they even weary God
with their duties and services, Isa. 1: 13, 14. God says in his
Word, he is weary: they say in their hearts, they are weary, Mal. 1:
13. But I answer, -
    (1.) Many cannot with any modesty make use of this pretence.
Their sloth, indifference, and negligence in the observance of the
duties of divine worship, both in private and public, is notorious.
In particular, is not the duty of family prayer neglected by many,
at least as to its constancy and fervency? And although it be
grounded in the light of nature, confirmed by the general rules of
the Scripture, requisite unto the dedication of a family unto God,
strengthened by the constant example of all the saints of old, and
necessary in the experience of all that walk with God; yet do not
many begin to seek out pleas and arguing to justify their omission
hereof? Are not all things filled with the fruits of the negligence
of such professors in the instruction of their children and
servants? And has not God given severe rebukes unto many of us, in
their fearful miscarriages? And as unto the public worship of God, I
wish that sloth and indifference did not appear upon too many, under
various pretences. But, -
    (2.) This is not that which I do intend. Men may be weary of
God, whilst they abide in the observance of a multitude of outward
duties.
    [1.] They may be so, with respect unto that spirituality and
intention of mind unto the exercise of all grace, which are required
unto such duties. These are the life, the soul, the animating
principle of them, without which their outward performance is but a
dead carcass. Men may draw nigh to God with their lips, when their
hearts are far from him. This is that which becomes God in his
worship, and is useful to our own souls; for "God is a Spirit, and
he will be worshipped in spirit and in truth;" which he is not, but
in the exercise of the graces of his Spirit in the worshipers; "for
bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable unto
all things," 1 Tim. 4: 8.
    To keep up the mind unto this frame, to stir up all grace unto
a constant vigorous exercise in all holy duties, is a matter
whereunto great spiritual diligence and watchfulness is required.
Watch unto prayer. A thousand pretences rise against it; all the
arts of sloth, formality, weariness of the flesh, and the business
of life, do contend to frustrate the design of it. And the
suitableness of resting in the work done, unto the principles of a
natural conscience, gives efficacy to them all: and when men come to
satisfy themselves herein, it may be it were better that for a time
such duties were wholly omitted; for in that case conscience itself
will urgently call on men, not hardened in sin, to a consideration
of their condition: wherefore much spiritual labour and diligence is
required in this matter. The outward performance of religious
duties, be they never so many, or however strictly enjoined, as the
daily and nightly canonical hours amongst the Popish devotionists,
is an easy task, - much inferior unto the constant labour which some
men use in their trades and callings. And in them, in the
performance of them, either public or in their families, men may be
weary of God: and according as they are remiss in the constant
keeping up of spirituality, and the exercise of grace in sacred
duties, so is the degree of their weariness. And there is almost
nothing whereby men may take a safer measure of their decays or
growth, than by the usual frame of their minds in these duties. If
they do constantly in them stir up themselves to take hold of God,
Isa. 64: 7, it is an evidence of a good temper of spiritual health
in the soul. But this will not be done without the utmost
watchfulness and care against impressions from the flesh and other
temptations. But sloth and formality herein is a sign of a
thriftless state in the inner man: and all inventions of such
formality are disserviceable unto the interest of grace.
    [2.] So is it with them also, who, attending unto the outward
duties of religion, do yet indulge themselves in any known sin; for
there is nothing of God in those duties which tend not unto the
mortification of all sin: and men may keep up a form of godliness,
to countenance themselves in the neglect of its power. And in
particular, where any known sin is indulged unto, where the
mortification of it is not duly endeavoured, where our religious
duties are not used, applied, and directed unto that end, there is a
weariness of whatever is of God in them; nor has the soul any real
intercourse or communion with God by them.
    5. If we should make a particular inquiry into the state of our
souls with respect unto those graces which are most useful, and tend
most to the glory of God, it is to be feared that the decays of many
would be made very evident; such are zeal, humility, contriteness of
heart, spiritual-mindedness, vigour of soul, and delight in the ways
of God, love, charity, self-denial, and the like. Are we fat and
flourishing in these things, even in old age? Are they in us, and do
they abound? as the apostle speaks, 2 Pet. 1: 8. Do we bring forth
the fruit of them, so as to show the faithfulness of God in his
supply of grace? I shall not make a particular inquiry into them,
but only give two general rules, whereby we may try ourselves with
respect unto them all.
    (1.) The loss of a spiritual appetite unto the food of our
souls is an evidence of a decay in all these graces. Spiritual
appetite consists in earnest desires, and a savoury relish; so it is
described by the apostle, 1 Pet. 2: 2, 3, "As new-born babes, desire
the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby; if so be ye
have tasted that the Lord is gracious." There is required unto this
spiritual appetite an earnest desire of the Word, grounded on an
experience of the grace of God in it, unto this end, that we may
grow and thrive spiritually thereby. And this appetite will give us
as just a measure of the state of grace in us as a natural appetite
unto wholesome food, with due digestion thereon, does give of a good
state of health in the body.
    This, therefore, we are to inquire into. Does it abide in us as
formerly? We hear the Word preached as much as ever; but do we do it
with the same desire and spiritual relish as before? Some hear to
satisfy their convictions, some to please their fancies, and some to
judge of the persons by whom it is dispensed. It is but in few that
the necessary preparation for the due receiving of it is found.
    When men grow in age, they lose much of their natural appetite
unto food. They must eat still for the maintenance of life; but they
do it not with that desire after it, and that gust in it, as in the
days of youth and health. Hence they are apt to think that the meat
which they had formerly was more savoury than what is now provided
for them; though what they now enjoy is much to be preferred before
what they then had. The change is in themselves. So we may find not
a few professors, who are ready to think and say that the preaching
which they had in former days, and the religious exercises which
they were engaged in, were far to be preferred above what they now
enjoy. But the change is in themselves; they have lost their
spiritual appetite, or their hunger and thirst after the food of
their souls.
    "The full soul loatheth an honey-comb; but to the hungry soul
every bitter thing is sweet," Prov. 27: 7. Men being grown full of
themselves, and of a good conceit of their own abilities, have lost
their spiritual appetite unto the Word of God; and this makes the
Word lose its power and efficacy towards them. That Word, which the
Psalmist says is "sweeter than honey, or the honey-comb," Ps. 19:
10, has little or no taste or relish in it unto them. If they were
hungry, they would find a sweetness in the bitterest of its
reproofs, beyond what they can now find in the sweetest of its
promises. They come to hear the Word with sick desires, and low
expectations, as if they were invited to eat after a feast, being
self-full before. But this loss of a spiritual appetite is an
evidence of the decay of all other graces whatever.
    (2.) A neglect of making religion our principal business, is
another evidence of the decay of all sorts of grace in us. For where
grace is in its proper exercise, it will subordinate all things unto
religion, and the ends of it, as David twenty times declares in the
119th Psalm. All things, all occasions of life, shall be postponed
thereunto. The love and valuation of it will bear sway in our minds,
our thoughts, and affections; and the practice of it shall give rule
unto all other concernments. But is it so with many amongst us. It
is well if religion be one thing, - it is far enough from being the
one thing; every other thing is preferred before it, and it can
hardly crowd in to possess any place in their minds. To see men
continually plodding in the affairs of the world, regulating all
their acting by their concernment in them, diverting on]y at some
seasons, as it were out of their way, unto duties of religion, - it
is vain to say that they make religion their business. But there is
scarce a more certain evidence of a frame of mind spiritually
decaying in all sorts of graces, if ever any of them were in it in
sincerity and power, than this one, that men do not make religion
their chiefest business. And a little self-examination will help men
to judge what it is that they make so to be.
    (3.) Lastly, I might also instance the uselessness of men in
their profession; in want of love unto all saints, barrenness in
good works, unreadiness and unwillingness to comply, in any
extraordinary manner, with the calls of God unto repentance and
reformation; in love of the world and pride of life, with passions
suited unto such principles, predominant in them: for they are all
undeniable evidences, that those with whom they are found had never
any true grace at all, or that they are fallen under woeful decays.
But what has been spoken may be sufficient unto our present purpose.
    This is the third thing that was proposed, - namely, an
endeavour to leave convictions on the minds of some concerning their
spiritual decays, and the necessity of seeking after a revival by
the means that shall be insisted on. And I intend it principally for
those of us who, under a long profession, are now come unto age, and
shall not have much time for duty continued to us. And the truth is,
I meet with none who are Christians of any considerable experience,
and are spiritually-minded, but they are sensible of the danger of
such decays in this hour of temptation, and how difficult it is, in
the use of all means, to keep up a vigorous, active frame of mind,
in faith, love, holiness, and fruitfulness. And for those who are
not concerned herein, I confess I know not what to make of them, or
their religion.
    IV. I proceed unto that which was proposed in the fourth or
last place, - namely, the way and means whereby believers may be
delivered from these decays, and come to thrive and flourish in the
inward principle and outward fruits of spiritual life; which will
bring us back unto consideration of that truth which we may seem to
have diverted from. And to this end, the things ensuing are proposed
unto consideration: -
    1. The state of spiritual decays is recoverable. No man that is
fallen under it has any reason to say, There is no hope, provided he
take the right way for his recovery. If every step that is lost in
the way to heaven should be irrecoverable, woe would be unto us; -
we should all assuredly perish. If there were no reparation of our
breaches, no healing of our decays, no salvation but for them who
are always progressive in grace; if God should mark all that is done
amiss, as the Psalmist speaks, "O Lord, who should stand?" nay, if
we had not recoveries every day, we should go off with a perpetual
backsliding. But then, as was said, it is required that the right
means of it be used, and not that which is destructive of what is
designed; whereof I shall give an instance. When trees grow old, or
are decaying, it is useful to dig about them, and manure them; which
may cause them to flourish again, and abound in fruit. But instead
hereof, if you remove them out of their soil, to plant them in
another, which may promise much advantage, they will assuredly
wither and die. So it is with professors, and has been with many.
Finding themselves under manifold decays, and little or nothing of
the life and power of religion left in them, they have grown weary
of their station and have changed their soil, or turning from one
way in religion unto another, as some have turned Papists, some
Quakers, and the like, apprehending that fault to be in the religion
which they professed, which was indeed only in themselves. You
cannot give an instance of any one who did not visibly wither and
die therein; but, had they used the proper means for their healing
and recovery, they might have lived and brought forth fruit.
    2. A strict attendance unto the severities of mortification,
with all the duties that lead thereunto, is required unto this end;
so also is the utmost diligence in all duties of obedience. These
things naturally offer themselves as the first relief in this case,
and they ought not to be omitted. But if I should insist upon them,
they would branch themselves into such a multitude of particular
directions, as it is inconsistent with my design here to handle.
Besides, the way which I intend to propose is of another nature,
though consistent with all the duties included in this proposal;
yea, such as without which not one of them can be performed in a due
manner. Wherefore, as unto these things, I shall only assert their
necessity, with a double limitation.
    (1.) That no duties of mortification be prescribed unto this
end, as a means of recovery from spiritual decays, but what for
matter and manner are of divine institution and command. All others
are laid under a severe interdict, under what pretence soever they
may be used. "Who hath required these things at your hands?" Want
hereof is that whereby a pretended design to advance religion in the
Papacy has ruined it. They have, under the name and pretence of the
means of mortification, or the duties of it, invented and enjoined,
like the Pharisees, a number of works, ways, duties, so called,
which God never appointed, nor approved, nor will accept; nor shall
they ever do good unto the souls of men. Such are their confessions,
disciplines, pilgrimages, fastings, abstinence, framed prayers, to
be repeated in stated canonical hours, in such a length and number.
In the bodily labour of these things they exercise themselves to no
spiritual advantage.
    But it is natural to all men to divert to such reliefs in this
case. Those who are thoroughly convinced of spiritual decays, are
therewithal pressed with a sense of the guilt of sin; for it is sin
which has brought them into that condition. Hereon, in the first
place, they set their contrivance at work, how they may atone divine
displeasure and obtain acceptance with God; and if they are not
under the actual conduct of evangelical light, two things
immediately offer themselves unto them. First, Some extraordinary
course in duties, which God has not commanded. This is the way which
they retake themselves unto in the Papacy, and which guilt, in the
darkness of corrupted nature, vehemently calls for. Secondly, An
extraordinary multiplication of such duties as, for the substance of
them, are required of us. An instance in both kinds we have, Micah
6: 6, 7, "Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself
before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves of a year old? will the LORD be pleased with thousands
of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my
firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of
my soul?" And by this means they hope for a restitution into their
former condition. And whereas spiritual decays are of two sorts;
first, from the power and effect of convictions only, which are
multiplied among temporary believers; and, secondly, from degrees in
the power and effects of saving grace; - those whose decays are of
the first sort are never to be diverted from attempting their relief
by such means; and when they find them fail, for the most part they
cease contending, and abandon themselves to the power of their
lusts; for they have no evangelical light to guide them in another
course.
    Unto them who are of the second sort is this direction given,
in an endeavour for a recovery from backsliding, and thriving in
grace, by a redoubled attendance unto the duties of mortification
and new obedience: Let care be taken that, as unto the matter of
them, they be of divine appointment; and as to the manner of their
performance, that it be regulated by the rules of the Scripture.
Such are constant reading and hearing of the Word, prayer with
fervency therein, a diligent watch against all temptations and
occasions of sin; especially an endeavour, by a holy earnestness,
and vehement rebukes of the entrance of any other frame, to keep the
mind spiritual and heavenly in its thoughts and affections.
    (2.) Let them take heed that they attempt not these things in
their own strength. When men have strong convictions that such and
such things are their own duty, they are apt to act as if they were
to be done in their own strength. They must do them, they will do
them, - that is, as unto the outward work, - and, therefore, they
think they can do them; that is, in a due manner. The Holy Ghost has
for ever rejected this confidence, - none shall prosper in it, 2
Cor. 3: 5; 9: 8. But hereby many deceive themselves, labouring in
the fire, while all they do does immediately perish; they have been
negligent and careless, whereby things are come to an ill posture
with them, and that peace which they had is impaired; but now they
will pray, and read, and fast, and be liberal to the poor, and now
strive after an abstinence from sin. All these things they suppose
they can do of themselves, because they can and ought to perform the
outward works, wherein the duties intended do consist. Hereby Christ
is left out of the whole design, who, when all is done, is the Lord
that health us, Exod. 15: 26. And there is another evil herein; for
whatever men do in their own natural abilities, there is a secret
reserve of some kind of merit in it. Those who plead for these
things, do aver there can be no merit in any thing but what proceeds
from our own free-will; and what is so done has some kind of merit
inseparably accompanying of it; and this is enough to render all
endeavours of this kind not only useless and fruitless, but utterly
rejected. Faith must engage the assistance of Christ and his grace
in and unto these duties; or, however they may be multiplied, they
will not be effectual unto our healing and recovery. These things
are to be used, according as we receive supplies of grace from
above, in subordination unto that work of faith that shall be
declared. Wherefore, -
    3. The work of recovering backsliders or believers from under
their spiritual decays is an act of sovereign grace, wrought in us
by virtue of divine promises. Out of this eater comes meat. Because
believers are liable to such declensions, backsliding, and decays,
God has provided and given unto us great and precious promises of a
recovery, if we duly apply ourselves unto the means of it. One of
the places only wherein they are recorded I shall here call over and
explain, Hos. 14: 1-8, "O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for
thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn
unto the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us
graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips," &c. "I will
heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is
turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall
grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches
shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his
smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return;
they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent
thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim shall say, What
have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed
him. I am like a green fir-tree: from me is thy fruit found."
    The whole matter treated of in general, both as unto the
disease and remedy, is fully stated in this passage of Scripture;
and that in the experience of the church, and God's dealing with
them; we may therefore receive many plain directions from it, and a
safe guidance in our progress; which we shall endeavour to take in
the ensuing observations: -
    (1.) This application of God unto Israel, "O Israel, return,"
was made when the generality of the people were wicked, and devoted
unto utter destruction. So it is declared in the last words of the
foregoing chapter; and their desolation fell out not long after
accordingly. Wherefore no season nor circumstances of things shall
obstruct sovereign grace when God will exercise it towards his
church: it shall work in the midst of desolating judgements.
    (2.) In such a time the true Israel of God, the elect
themselves, are apt to be overtaken with the sins of the whole, and
so to backslide from God, and so to fall into spiritual decays. So
Israel had now done, though she had not absolutely broken covenant
with God. He was yet unto her "The LORD thy God;" yet she had fallen
by her iniquity. Times of public apostasy are often accompanied with
partial defects in the best: "Because iniquity aboundeth, the love
of many shall wax cold," Matt. 24: 12.
    (3.) When God designs to heal the backsliding of his people by
sovereign grace, he gives them effectual calls unto repentance, and
the use of means for their healing: so he does here by his prophet,
"O Israel, return; take with you words." And if I could see that God
did stir up his faithful ministers to apply themselves in a peculiar
manner unto this work of pressing vehemently all their congregations
with their duty herein, and let them know that there is no other way
to prevent their ruin but by returning unto the Lord, according to
the ways of it here prescribed, I should not doubt but that the time
of healing were at hand.
    4. The means prescribed unto this end, that our backsliding may
be healed in a way suited unto the glory of God, is renewed
repentance: and this acts itself, -
    (1.) In fervent prayer. "Take with you words, and say."
Consider the greatness and importance of the work before you, and
weigh well what you do in your dealing with God. The matter of this
prayer is twofold. [1.] The pardon of all iniquity; that is, the
taking of it away; and no sin is omitted, all being now become
equally burdensome: "Take away all iniquity." When the souls of
sinners are in good earnest in their return unto God, they will
leave out the consideration of no one sin whatever. Nor are we meet
for healing, nor shall we apply ourselves unto it in a due manner,
without some previous sense of the love of God in the pardon of our
sin. [2.] Gracious acceptation: "Receive us graciously." The words
in the original are only "wekach tov". And receive good;" but both
the words being used variously, the sense eminently included in them
is well expressed by - "Receive us graciously." After we have cast
ourselves under tokens of thy displeasure, now let us know that we
are freely accepted with thee. And this also lies in the desires of
them who design to obtain a healing of their backsliding; for under
them they are sensible that they are obnoxious unto God's
displeasure.
    (2.) Affectionate confessions of the sin wherein their
backsliding did consist, or which were the occasions of them.
"Asshur shall not save us;" - "We will say no more to the work of
our hands, Ye are our gods." Fleshly confidence and false worship
were the two great sins that had now ruined the body of the people.
These believers themselves had an accession unto them more or less,
as now they have unto the prevailing sins of the days wherein we
live, by conformity unto the world. Of these sins God expecteth a
full and free confession, in order unto our healing.
    (3.) A renewed covenant engagement to renounce all other hopes
and expectation, and to retake themselves with their whole trust and
confidence unto him; whereof they express, first, the cause, which
was his mere grace and mercy, "For in thee the fatherless findeth
mercy;" and, secondly, the effect of it, which is praise and
thanksgiving, "So will we render the calves of our lips." And some
things we may hence farther observe as unto the case under
consideration. As, -
    [1.] Although God will repair our spiritual decays and heal our
backsliding freely, yet he will do it so, or in such a way, as
wherein he may communicate grace unto us, to the praise of his own
glory. Therefore are these duties prescribed unto us in order
thereunto; for although they are not the procuring cause of the love
and grace from whence alone we are healed, yet are they required, in
the method of the dispensation of grace, to precede the effect of
them. Nor have we anywhere a more illustrious instance and testimony
of the consistency and harmony which is between sovereign grace and
the diligent discharge of our duty than we have in this place; for
as God promiseth that he would heal their backsliding out of his
free love, verse 4, and would do it by the communication of
effectual grace, verse 5, so he enjoins them all these duties in
order thereunto.
    [2.] That unless we find these things wrought in us in a way of
preparation for the receiving of the mercy desired, we have no firm
ground of expectation that we shall be made partakers of it; for
this is the method of God's dealing with the church. Then, and then
only, we may expect a gracious reviving from all our decays, when
serious repentance, working in the ways declared, is found in us.
This grace will not surprise us in our sloth, negligence, and
security, but will make way for itself by stirring us up unto
sincere endeavours after it in the perseverance of these duties. And
until we see better evidences of this repentance among us than as
yet appears, we can have but small hopes of a general recovery from
our present decays.
    5. The work itself is declared, - (1.) By its nature; (2.) In
its causes; (3.) From its effects.
    (1.) In the nature of it, it is the healing of backsliding: "I
will heal their backsliding," the sin whereby they are fallen off
from God, unto whom they are now exhorted to return. These bring the
souls of men into a diseased state and danger of death: the cure
hereof is the work of God alone. Hence he gives himself that title,
"I am the LORD that health thee," Exod. 15: 26. And because of the
poisonous nature of sin, and the danger it brings of eternal death
unto the souls of men, the removal of it, or a recovery from it, is
often called by the name of healing, Ps 6: 2; Isa. 57: 18, 19; Hos.
6: 1. Here it includeth two things: first, the pardon of sin past;
and then, a supply of grace to make us fruitful in obedience: "I
will be as the dew to Israel;" as we shall see. This is God's
healing of backslidings.
    (2.) In the causes of it, which are, - 1. The principal moving
cause; and that is, free, undeserved love: "I will love them
freely." From hence alone is our recovery to be expected. 2. The
efficient cause; which, as unto sins past, is pardoning mercy: "Mine
anger is turned away from him;" - and as unto renewed obedience, in
which too our recovery consists, it is in a plentiful supply of
effectual grace: "I will be as the dew unto Israel." Fresh supplies
of the Spirit of grace from above are so expressed; this is
necessary unto our healing and recovery.
    (3.) It is described by its effect, which is a much more
abundant fruitfulness in holiness and obedience, in peace and love,
than ever they had before attained. This the prophet sets out in
multiplied similitudes and metaphors, to denote the greatness and
efficacy of grace so communicated.
    I have a little insisted on the opening of the context, for
sundry reasons.
    1. The case which I would consider is in all the parts of it
stated distinctly, and represented clearly unto us. There is nothing
remains, but only the especial way whereby, in the exercise of
faith, this grace may be obtained; which is that which I shall speak
unto in the last place, as that which is principally intended in
this Discourse.
    2. That I might show how great a thing it is to have our
spiritual decays made up, our backsliding healed, and so to attain
the vigorous acting of grace and spiritual life, with a flourishing
profession and fruitful obedience, in old age. It is so set forth
here by the Holy Ghost, as that every one must needs have a sense of
the beauty and glory of the work: it is that which divine love,
mercy, and grace, are eminently effectual in unto the glory of God,
- that which so many duties are required to prepare us for. Let no
man think that it is a light or common work; every thing in it is
peculiar: it is, unto them who are made partakers of it, a life from
the dead.
    3. That none may utterly despond under their decays. When
persons are awakened by new convictions, and begin to feel the
weight of them, and how implicately they are entangled with them,
they are ready to faint, and even to despair of deliverance. But we
see that here is a promise of deliverance from them by pardoning
mercy, and also of such fresh springs of grace as shall cause us to
abound in holiness and fruitfulness. Who is it that is entangled
with corruptions and temptations, that groans under a sense of a
cold, lifeless, barren frame of heart? He may take in spiritual
refreshment, if by faith he can make application of this promise
unto himself.
    4. That which remains, is to declare the particular way
whereby, in the exercise of faith, we may obtain the fruit of this
and all other promises of the like nature, unto the end so often
proposed, - namely, of being flourishing and fruitful even in old
age. Now, supposing a due attendance unto the duties mentioned, I
shall give some directions with respect unto that which gives life,
power, and efficacy unto them all, and which will infallibly bring
us unto the full enjoyment of this signal mercy; and they are these
that follow: -
    1. All our supplies of grace are from Jesus Christ. Grace is
declared in the promises of the Old Testament; but the way of its
communication, and our receiving of it, is revealed unto us in the
New. This belongs to the mystery of it, that all grace is from
Christ, and shall be in vain expected any other way. He has assured
us, that "without him we can do nothing;" we can no more bring forth
fruit, than a branch can that is separated from the vine, John 15:
3-5. He is our head, and all our spiritual influences - that is,
divine communication of grace - are from him alone. He is our life
efficiently, and liveth in us effectively, so as that our ability
for vital acts is from him, Gal 2: 20; Col. 3:. 1-4. Are we, then,
any of us under convictions of spiritual decays? or do we long for
such renovations of spiritual strength as may make us flourish in
faith, love, and holiness? We must know assuredly, that nothing of
all this can be attained, but it must come from Jesus Christ alone.
We see what promises are made, what duties are prescribed unto us;
but however we should endeavour to apply ourselves unto the one or
the other, they would yield us no relief, unless we know how to
receive it from Christ himself.
    2. The only way of receiving supplies of spiritual strength and
grace from Jesus Christ, on our part, is by faith. Hereby we come
unto him, are implanted in him, abide with him, so as to bring forth
fruit. He dwells in our hearts by faith, and he acts in us by faith,
and we live by faith in or on the Son of God. This, I suppose, will
be granted, that if we receive any thing from Christ, it must be by
faith, it must be in the exercise of it, or in a way of believing;
nor is there any one word in the Scripture that gives the least
encouragement to expect either grace or mercy from him in any other
way, or by any other means.
    3. This faith respects the person of Christ, his grace, his
whole mediation, with all the effects of it, and his glory in them
all. This is that which has been so much insisted on in the
foregoing Discourses as that it ought not to be again insisted upon.
This, therefore, is the issue of the whole: - a steady view of the
glory of Christ, in his person, grace, and office, through faith, -
or a constant, lively exercise of faith on him, according as he is
revealed unto us in the Scripture, - is the only effectual way to
obtain a revival from under our spiritual decays, and such supplies
of grace as shall make us flourishing and fruitful even in old age.
He that thus lives by faith in him shall, by his spiritual thriving
and growth, "show that the Lord is upright, that he is our rock, and
that there is no unrighteousness in him."
    We may consider briefly, - first, how this is testified unto in
the Scripture; and then, what are the ways whereby this grace or
duty will produce this effect; and so put a close unto this part of
the application of the sacred truth before declared.
    1. This direction is given us, Ps. 34: 5, "They looked unto
him, and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed." That it
is Christ, or the glory of God in him, that is thus looked unto, I
need not prove, - it will not be denied. And it is their faith which
is expressed by their looking unto him; which is nothing but that
beholding of his glory which we have described: for it is an act of
trust arising from an apprehension of who and what he is. The issue
or effect hereof is, that they were lightened; that is, received
fresh communication of spiritual, saving, refreshing light from him,
and, consequently, of all other graces, whence their faces were not
ashamed: nor shall we fail in our expectation of new spiritual
communication in the exercise of the same faith.
    This is that which we are called unto, Is 45: 22, "Look unto
me, and be saved, all ye ends of the earth." On this look to Christ,
on this view of his glory, depends our whole salvation; and
therefore all things that are needful thereunto do so also: this is
the way whereby we receive grace and glory. This is the direction
given us by the Holy Ghost for the attaining of them.
    So is the same duty described, Micah 7: 7, "Therefore I will
look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God
will hear me." The church knew not any other way of relief, whatever
her distresses were.
    A look unto Christ as crucified (and how glorious he was
therein, has been declared) is made the cause and fountain of that
godly sorrow which is a spring unto all other graces, especially in
those who have fallen under decays, Zech. 12: 10; and it is so also
of desiring strength from him, to enable us to endure all our
trials, troubles, and afflictions, with patience unto the end, Heb.
12: 2.
    2. The only inquiry remaining, is, how a constant view of the
glory of Christ will produce this blessed effect in us: and it will
do so several ways.
    1. It will be effected by that transforming power and efficacy
which this exercise of faith is always accompanied withal. This is
that which changeth us every day more and more into the likeness of
Christ, as has been at large before declared. Herein all revivals
and all flourishing are contained. To have a good measure of
conformity unto Christ is all whereof in this life we are capable:
the perfection of it is eternal blessedness. According as are our
attainments therein, so is the thriving and flourishing of the life
of grace in us; which is that which is aimed at. Other ways and
means, it may be, have failed us, let us put this to the trial. Let
us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and
virtue will proceed from him to repair all our decays, to renew a
right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of
obedience. This way of producing these effects flesh and blood will
not reveal, - it looks like washing in Jordan to cure a leprosy; but
the life of faith is a mystery known only unto them in whom it is.
    2. It will fix the soul unto that object which is suited to
give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction. This in perfection
is blessedness, for it is caused by the eternal vision of the glory
of God in Christ; and the nearer approaches we make unto this state,
the better, the more spiritual, the more heavenly, is the state of
our souls. And this is to be obtained only by a constant
contemplation of the glory of Christ, as has been declared. And it
is several ways effectual unto the end now proposed. For, -
    1. The most of our spiritual decays and barrenness arise from
an inordinate admission of other things into our minds; for these
are they that weaken grace in all its operations. But when the mind
is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, when the soul
thereon cleaves unto him with intense affections, they will cast
out, or not give admittance unto, those causes of spiritual weakness
and indisposition. See Col. 3: 1-5; Eph. 5: 8.
    2. Where we are engaged in this duty, it will stir up every
grace unto its due exercise; which is that wherein the spiritual
revival inquired after does consist. This is all we desire, all we
long for, this will make us fat and flourishing, - namely, that
every grace of the Spirit have its due exercise in us. See Rom. 5:
3-5; 2 Pet. 1: 5-8. Whereas, therefore, Christ himself is the first
proper, adequate object of all grace, and all its exercise (for it
first respects him, and then other things for him), when the mind is
fixed on him and his glory, every grace will be in a readiness for
its due exercise. And without this we shall never attain it by any
resolutions or endeavours of our own, let us make the trial when we
please.
    3. This will assuredly put us on a vigilant watch and constant
conflict against all the deceitful workings of sin, against all the
entrances of temptation, against all the ways and means of
surprisals into foolish frames, by vain imaginations which are the
causes of our decays. Our recovery or revival will not be effected,
nor a fresh spring of grace be obtained, in a careless, slothful
course of profession. Constant watching, fighting, contending
against sin, with our utmost endeavour for an absolute conquest over
it, are required hereunto. And nothing will so much excite and
encourage our souls hereunto as a constant view of Christ and his
glory; every thing in him has a constraining power hereunto, as is
known to all who have any acquaintance with these things.
    
    
End.