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Now consider when you are tempted, whose promises or whose threatenings prevail most with you, God's or Satan's. If you yield to the temptation, it is plain that you prefer Satan's before God's. And this reflects a mighty dishonour upon him, either,
That what he promiseth is not valuable. Or,
But, the common sense and first notions of all mankind must needs agree in this, that what God promiseth is infinitely more valuable, and what he threatens is infinitely more dreadful, than what can be promised or threatened in a temptation; inasmuch as eternal joys do vastly transcend momentary and impure pleasures, which die in their very birth, and leave nothing but a sting and torment in the conscience: and those light afflictions, which the Devil tempts us to avoid by sinning, are poor inconsiderable nothings, in comparison with that eternal anguish and horror, which God threatens to inflict on us for sinning.
What is it then, that makes the temptations of the Devil so prevalent and effectual with most men in the world? Is it not because they do not believe him, who is truth itself, in what he promises and threatens; but assent to the false promises of him, who is a liar from the beginning? There is no man, that yields unto a temptation, but it is because he believes Satan rather than God. Infidelity is the root of all sin: and, by this, they cast a high disparagement and dishonour upon his truth and veracity. Did we but believe that heaven is so inconceivably glorious, a place where joy and bliss keep their eternal residence, and where we shall for ever live in the smiles and love of God, if now for
few short years we endeavour to our utmost to live holy and obedient lives; did we but believe that the crown of glory is so massy, and all the gems of it so bright and orient; that we shall there bathe in rivers of pleasure, and for ever feel and enjoy more satisfaction than we can now conceive: did we but believe these things as the Scripture hath revealed them to us, without diffidence or hesitation; nay, did we but believe them as probable and likely enough to come to pass, should we so cheaply forfeit the hopes of these things, for the impure and vanishing delights of sin ? We find that the promise of some temporal reward from men, is of force enough to allure us to very hard tasks and difficult enterprises : how far will many venture, and how much pains and labour will they take to obtain it! and yet the promises, that God himself hath made of eternal glory, in comparison with which to promise sceptres and kingdoms is but to promise trifles and gewgaws, have so little effect upon the generality of mankind to win them to a holy and obedient life! Whence is this, but that there is a great deal of atheism and infidelity secretly lurking in men's souls; which never more discovers itself, than when we suffer ourselves to be hurried away by temptations, against all those considerations, which the Scripture hath propounded to us of eternal rewards and punishments. Did we but believe that there is a day of reckoning to come, when we must stand before a righteous and impartial judge, to give a strict and narrow account of all our actions, and receive our doom from his mouth according to what we have done; did we but believe the intolerable wrath of God, the fire and darkness, woe and anguish, and all those racks and engines of torture that are prepared for the damned; who of us would ever again hearken unto a temptation, which only bids us plunge ourselves headlong into such an abyss of miseries? we should no more dare to commit the least sin against God, than to be damned, and run into the flames of hell with our eyes open, and seeing our destruction evidently before us. But the truth is, we are credulous towards the Devil, and infidels towards God; and most gross and deplored fools, in both. Satan labours most to weaken our faith; for he knows, if he can but once beat us from that guard, all his temptations will certainly prove effectnal and do execution upon us. And, therefore, our Saviour tells Peter, Luke xxii. 31, 32. Simon, Simon, behold. Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat : But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not : teaching us, that there is no such sure defence against the temptations of the Devil, as the strong and vigorous actings of faith : while we believe what God hath spoken, we shall never be allured by whatsoever the Devil can suggest. And, therefore, also the Apostle, when he gives us the panoply and complete armour of a Christian, exhorts us, Eph. vi. 16. Above all, to take the shield of faith, wherewith we shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Above all : i. e. either chiefly look that your faith be strong : or, else, as the shield was used to be a defence not only unto the body, but to the rest of the armour likewise; so, above all, or over all the other pieces of your spiritual armour, take the shield of faith; for this will be a defence not only to your souls, but to your other graces, to keep them from being bruised and battered by the temptations of the Wicked One.
And thus you have seen how we ought to glorify God under this first spiritual suffering, which is by Temptations, hy a strong and vigorous resistance made against them; for, in so doing, we glorify both the power of divine grace, in preserving us from the commission of those sins unto which we are tempted; and likewise the truth and veracity of God, in his promises and threatenings.
2dly. The second spiritual suffering is Desertion, wherein we suffer from God.
And this is a very heavy affliction to that soul, who ever knew what the presence, and favour, and the comfortable and reviving influences of the love of God mean. When a pious Christian hath once fixed God as his chief and only good, and taken the measures of all his joy and content from his union to and communion with that sovereign good, how infinitely cutting must it needs be for God to absent and withdraw himself, and leave him under dark and gloomy apprehensions that he is rejected and cast out of favour, and disinherited by his Heavenly Father!
Now, in this doleful condition, when God hath eclipsed the light of his countenance, and withdrawn from us the comforts of his free Spirit, how shall we demean ourselves, so as to glorify him?
To this I answer: In this case, which is confessedly very sad and disconsolate, observe these following directions.
(1st). If you would glorify God under desertions, still stay yourselves upon him, though you cannot see him.
Though you cannot see his face, yet lay hold on his arm. See that most comfortable place, Isa. 1. 10. Who is there among you, that feareth the Lord, and obeyeth the voice of his prophet, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? here is a holy soul de. scribed in its worst estate; enveloped in thick darkness, as dark as the confused heap and rubbish of the first chaos; not having the least gleam of light breaking in upon it, either from the face of God, or the reflection of its own graces. Now what must this dark soul do, in this dark condition? Let hin, saith the Prophet, trust in the name of the Lord, and stay himself upon his God. Now this staying upon God, in a time of darkness and desertion, implies, that, although we have no evidence, no light, nor knowledge that we are his, and that he is our God in covenant with us; yet, that we have fixed our firm and settled resolutions, to devolve and roll the eternal concernments of our
precious souls upon his mere mercy and free grace through the merits of Jesus Christ. Now what a vast revenue of glory will this bring in to God, when we thus lay ourselves at his feet; when we thus hang and clasp about him; and resolve, with holy Job, chap. xiii. 15. Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him! So when, after the various tossings and tumults of our unquiet thoughts, we can rest upon this, “ Possibly, God will destroy me; but I am not certain : yet I will cleave unto him: I will venture my everlasting state and my immortal soul, merely upon his mercy, in the ways of duty and obedience. If God will shake off such a viper as I am into hell-fire; yet he shall shake me off his arm: on that, I will depend: by that, I will hold: if I perish, I perish. Sure I am, that, by continuing in my sins, I shall unavoidably perish ; but, if I yield myself to him, and humbly crave his mercy and grace, I can but perish, but, possibly, may live.” Thus to resolve, and thus to act, doth exceedingly glorify the rich and sovereign mercy of God; when, in all the storms and fluctuations of a troubled spirit, we cast out this as our sheet anchor; and commit the eternal interests of our souls only to this security.
(2dly) If you would glorify God under desertion, encourage yourselves that he will again return unto you, and clear up
his loving-kindness and favour unto your souls.
Think not thyself past hope, because, for the present, thou art without comfort. Never judge so hardly of God, that, every time he hides his face, he intends likewise to take away his mercy from thee. Though the clouds be never so thick gathered, yet he is able to shine through them all: he is able to scatter and dissipate them; and to make a day arise upon thy soul, by so much the more glorious, by how much the night and darkness hath been more obscure and dismal. Be assured that God can, and hope that he will, lead you through this valley of the shadow of death; and bring you into an estate made glorious and full of beauty, by the light and smiles of his loving countenance.
(3dly) Call then to remembrance thy former experiences of the mercy and goodness of God to thy soul.
And though now, for the present, God seems to write only bitter things against thee: yet, as absent friends use to read over former letters, and solace themselves with the review of those expressions of kindness which they had formerly received; so, now that the commerce between heaven and thy soul seems
to be interrupted, and thou canst receive nothing from thence to comfort and revive thee, yet read over thy former evidences, review the former letters and tokens of his love to thee: for, though he hath withdrawn the fresh supplies of comfort, yet he hath still left thee a stock in thy hands, enough, at least, to keep thee alive, and to support thee from sinking into utter despair. See Asaph's case, Ps. lxxvii. where we have a most doleful complaint of a poor deserted soul: verses 7, 8, 9. Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious ? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? you see that he all along seems to lay the very accent of damnation upon his desertion; for ever ! for ever / but consider, then, how he supports himself, v. 10. And I said, This is my infirmity : but I will remember the years of the righthand of the Most High. The years of the right-hand of the Most High: i. e. I will recal to mind former times, wherein God bestowed upon me the blessings of his right-hand; and, in this present dearth, live upon what I laid up in the years of plenty and abundance. So, in your desertions, do you glorify God; by recalling to mind former mercies, and former discoveries of his special grace and love to your souls. Can none of
you remember, when you would have ventured your souls upon the truth of those joys and comforts which you have felt? when you were willing to depart out of this world, and to be found of God in no other estate than you knew yourselves to be then in? And, what! can you so suddenly be at a loss for comfort enough to keep you alive, who, but a while since, had so much as to make you hope and wish for death? whence proceeds this unhappy change? is God unfaithful? is his love fickle? are his promise and covenant reversible; that you are so soon cast down from assurance to doubtings, and from doubtings to despondency? If not, but that there is the same merit in the blood of Christ, the same efficacy in his intercession, the same stability in the purpose of God, and the same fidelity in his promises now as there was in your highest joys, what reason have you to dishonour him by those distracting fears, doubts, and jealousies which torment you? Be persuaded, therefore, to glorify the truth and faithfulness of all these, by encouraging yourselves in the same hopes, though it may be they flourish not into such rich assurance as formerly.