« AnteriorContinuar »
ted from all the worldt. A true Christian doubtless delights in religious fellowship and Christian conversation, and finds much to affect his heart in it; but he also delights at times to retire from all mankind, to converse with God in solitude. And this also has its peculiar advantages for fixing his heart, and engaging his affections. True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places, for holy meditation and prayer. So it wrought in Isaac, Gen. xxiv. 63. And which is much more, so it wrought in Jesus Christ. How often do we read of his retiring into mountains and solitary places, for holy converse with his Father? It is difficult to conceal great affections, but yet gracious affections are of a much more silent and secret nature, than those that are counterfeit. So it is with gracious sorrow of the saints for their own sinst. Thus the future gracious mourning of true penitents, at the beginning of the latter-day glory, is represented as being so secret, as to be hidden from the companions of their bosom; Zech. xii. 12, 13, 14. And the land shall mourn every family apart: the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart: the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart: the family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart: the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart : all the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart. So it is with their sorrow for the sins of others. The saints' pains and travail for the souls of sinners is chiefly in secret places; Jer. xiii. 17. If ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride, and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive. So it is with gracious joys: they are hidden manna, in this respect, as well as others, Rev. ii. 17. The Psalmist seems to speak of his sweetest comforts, as those which he had in secret; Psal. lxiii. 5, 6. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow
"The Lord is neglected secretly, yet honoured openly; because there is no wind in their chambers to blow their sails; and therefore they shall stand still. Hence many men keep their profession, when they lose their affection. They have by the one a name to live, (and that is enough,) though their hearts be dead. And hence so long as you love and commend them, so long they love you; but if not, they will forsake you. They were warm only by another's fire, and hence having no principle of life within, soon grow dead. This is the water that turns a Pharisee's mill." Shepard's Parable, Part I. p. 180.
"The hypocrite (says Mr. Flavel) is not for the closet, but the synagogue, Matth. vi. 5, 6. It is not his meat and drink to retire from the clamour of the world, to enjoy God in secret." Touchstone of Sincerity, chap. vii. § 2.
Dr. Ames, in his Cases of Conscience, Lib. III. Chap. v. speaks of it as a thing by which sincerity may be known; "That persons be obedient in the absence, as well as in the presence of lookers on; in secret, yea more than in public;" alledging Phil. ii. 12. and Matth. vi. 6.
Mr. Flavel, in reckoning up those things, wherein the sorrow of saints is distinguished from the sorrow of hypocrites, about their sins, says, "Their troubles for sin are more private and silent troubles than others are; their sore runs in the night." Touchstone of Sincerity, Chap. vi. § 5.
and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the nightwatches. Christ calls forth his spouse away from the world into retired places, that he may give her his sweetest love; Cant. vii. 11, 12. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages;—there will I give thee my loves. The most eminent divine favours which the saints obtained, that we read of in scripture, were in their retirement. The principal manifestations that God made of himself, and his covenant-mercy to Abraham, were when he was alone, apart from his numerous family; as any one will judge that carefully reads his history. Isaac received that special gift of God, Rebekah, who was so great a comfort to him, and by whom he obtained the promised seed, walking alone, meditating in the field. Jacob was retired for secret prayer, when Christ came to him; and he wrestled with him, and obtained the blessing. God revealed himself to Moses in the bush, when he was in a solitary place in the desert, in mount Horeb, Exod. iii. And afterwards, when God shewed him his glory, and he was admitted to the highest degree of communion with God that ever he enjoyed; he was alone, in the same mountain, and continued there forty days and forty nights, and then came down with his face shining. God came to those great prophets, Elijah and Elisha, and conversed freely with them, chiefly in their retirement. Elijah conversed alone with God at mount Sinai, as Moses did. And when Jesus Christ had his greatest prelibation of his future glory, when he was transfigured; it was not when he was with the multitude, or with the twelve disciples, but retired into a solitary place in a mountain, with only three select disciples, whom he charged that they should tell no man, until he was risen from the dead. When the angel Gabriel came to the blessed virgin, and when the Holy Ghost came upon her, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her, she seems to have been alone, in this matter hid from the world; her nearest and dearest earthly friend Joseph, who had betrothed her, knew nothing of the matter. And she that first partook of the joy of Christ's resurrection, was alone with Christ at the sepulchre, John xx. And when the beloved disciple was favoured with those wonderful visions of Christ, and his future dispensations towards the church and the world, he was alone in the isle of Patmos. Not but that we have also instances of great privileges that the saints have received when with others; there is much in Christian conversation, and social and public worship, tending greatly to refresh and rejoice the hearts of the saints. But this is all that I aim at by what has been said, to shew that it is the nature of true grace, however it loves Christian society in its place, in a peculiar manner to delight in retirement, and secret converse with God.
that if persons appear greatly engaged in social religion, and but little in the religion of the closet, and are often highly affected when with others, and but little moved when they have none but God and Christ to converse with, it looks very darkly upon their religion.
Another great and very distinguishing difference is, that the higher gracious affections are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments increased: On the contrary, false affections rest satisfied in themselvest.
The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to him: the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it, and laments that he has so much remaining love to it. The more he mourns for sin, the more he longs to mourn; the more his heart is broken, the more he desires it should be broken. The more he thirsts and longs after God and holiness, the more he longs to long, and breathe out his very soul in longings after God. The kindling and raising of gracious affections is like kindling a flame; the higher it is raised, the more ardent it is; and the more it burns, the more vehemently does it tend and seek to burn. So that the spiritual appetite after holiness, and an increase of holy affections, is much more lively and keen in those that are eminent in holiness, than others; and more when grace and holy affections are in their most lively exercise, than at other times. It is as much the nature of one that is spiritually newborn, to thirst after growth in holiness, as it is the nature of a new-born babe to thirst after the mother's breast; who has the sharpest appetite, when best in health; 1 Pet. ii.2, 3. As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow there
"Truly there is no work of Christ that is right, (saya Mr. Shepard,) but it carries the soul to long for more of it." Parable of the Ten Virgins, Part. I. p. 136.
And again, "There is in true grace an infinite circle: a man by thirsting, receives, and receiving, thirsts for more. But hence the Spirit is not poured out abundantly on churches, because men shut it out, by shutting in, and contenting themselves with their common graces and gifts; Matth. vii. 29. Examine if it be not so." Ibid. p. 182.
And in p. 210, he says, "This I say, True grace as it comforts, so it never fills, but puts an edge on the appetite; more of that grace, Lord! Thus Paul, Phil. iii. 13, 14. Thus David, Out of my poverty I have given, &c. 1 Chron. xxix. 3, 17, It is a sure way never to be deceived in lighter strokes of the Spirit, to be thankful for any, but to be content with no measure of it. And this cuts the thread of difference, between a superficial lighter stroke of the Spirit, and that which is sound."
by: if so be that ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. The most that the saints have in this world, is but a taste, a prelibation of that future glory which is their proper fulness; it is only an earnest of their future inheritance; (Cor. i. 22. and v. 5. and Eph. i. 14.) The most eminent saints in this state are but children, compared with their future, which is their proper state of maturity and perfection; as the apostle observes, 1 Cor. xiii. 10, 11. The greatest eminence and perfection that the saints arrive at in this world, has no tendency to satiety, or to abate their desires after more; but, on the contrary, makes them more eager to press forwards; as is evident by the apostle's words, Phil. iii. 13-15. Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark.-Let us therefore, as many as be PERFECT, be thus minded.
The reasons of it are, that the more persons have of holy affections, the more they have of that spiritual taste which I have spoken of elsewhere; whereby they perceive the excellency, and relish the divine sweetness of holiness. And the more grace they have, while in this state of imperfection, the more they see their imperfection and emptiness, and distance from what ought to be; and so the more do they see their need of grace; as I shewed at large before, when speaking of the nature of evangelical humiliation. And besides, grace, as long as it is imperfect, is of a growing nature, and in a growing state. And we see it to be so with all living things, that while they are in a state of imperfection, and in their growing state, their nature seeks after growth; and so much the more, as they are more healthy and prosperous. Therefore the cry of every true grace, is like that cry of true faith, Mark ix. 24. Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief. And the greater spiritual discoveries and affections the true Christian has, the more does he become an earnest supplicant for grace, and spiritual food, that he may grow; and the more earnestly does he pursue after it, in the use of proper means and endeavours: for true and gracious longings after holiness, are no idle ineffectual desires.
But here some may object, How is this consistent with what all allow, that spiritual enjoyments are of a soul-satisfying nature?
I answer, Its being so will appear to be not at all inconsistent with what has been said, if it be considered in what manner spiritual enjoyments are said to be of a soul-satisfying nature. Certainly they are not of a cloying nature, so that he who has any thing of them, though but in a very imperfect degree, desires no more. But spiritual enjoyments are of a soul-satisfying nature in the following respects. 1. They in their kind and na
ture, are fully adapted to the nature, capacity and need of the soul of man. So that those who find them, desire no other kind of enjoyments; they sit down fully contented with that kind of hap-. piness which they have, desiring no change, nor inclining to wander about any more, saying, Who will shew us any good? the soul is never cloyed, neyer weary; but perpetually giving up itself, with all its powers, to this happiness. But not that those who have something of this happiness, desire no more of the same. They are satisfying also in this respect, that they answer the expectation of the appetite. When the appetite is high to any thing, the expectation is consequently so. Appetite to a particular object, implies expectation in its nature. This expectation is not satisfied by worldly enjoyments, the man expected to have a great accession of happiness, but he is disappointed. But it is not so with spiritual enjoyments; they fully answer and satisfy the expectation. 3. The gratification and pleasures of spiritual enjoyments is permanent. It is not so with worldly enjoyments. They in a sense satisfy particular appetites: but the appetite in being satisfied, is glutted, and then the pleasure is over and as soon as that is over, the general appetite of human nature after happiness returns; but is empty, and without any thing to satisfy it. So that the glutting of a particular appetite, does but take away from, and leave empty, the general thirst of nature. 4. Spiritual good is satisfying, as there is enough in it to satisfy the soul, as to degree, if obstacles were but removed, and the enjoying faculty duly applied. There is room enough here for the soul to extend itself; here is an infinite ocean. If men be not satisfied here, as to degree of happiness, the cause is with themselves; it is because they do not open their mouths wide enough.
But these things do not argue that a soul has no appetite excited after more of the same, when it has tasted a little; or that the appetite will not increase, until it comes to fulness of enjoyment: as bodies attracted to the earth, tend to it more strongly, the nearer they come to the attracting body, and are not at rest out of the centre. Spiritual good is of a satisfying nature; and for that very reason, the soul that tastes, and knows its nature, will thirst after it, and a fulness of it, that it may be satisfied. And the more one experiences, and knows this excellent, unparalleled, exquisite, and satisfying sweetness, the more earnestly will he hunger and thirst for more, until he comes to perfection. And therefore this is the nature of spiritual affections, that the greater they be, the greater the appetite and longing is, after grace and holiness.
But with those joys, and other religious affections, that are false and counterfeit, it is otherwise. If before there was a great desire, of some sort, after grace; as these affections rise, that