THE CAUSES OF APPARENT DESERTION.
“Show me wherefore thou contendest with me.” — Job 10:2.
IT would be a grievous imputation upon the much tried children of God, if we should imagine that their greater trials are the results of greater sin. We see some of them stretched upon the bed of languishing year after yearothers are subject to the severest losses in business, and a third class are weeping the oft repeated bereavements of death. Are all these chastisements for sin? and are we to attribute the excess of trouble to an enlarged deuce o! transgression? Many of the Lord’s people are free from the extreme bitterness of such affliction: what is the cause of the difference? Is it always the result of sin? We reply, Certainly not. In many cases it is, but in as many more it is not. David had a comparatively smooth course until after his sin with Bathsheba, and then he commenced a pilgrimage of deepest woe; but we do not think that the trials of Job were preceded by any great fall; on the contrary, Job was never more holy than just before the enemy fell upon him. Trials have other errands besides the mortification of the flesh, and other reasons beyond that of chastisement for sin.
Since the hidings of God’s countenance stand among the chief of our troubles, the previous remark will apply to them. These are, without doubt, very frequently a monition from Christ of his grief at our iniquities; but, at the same time, there are so many exceptions to this rule, that it would be unsafe, as well as untrue, to consider it to be general. A portion of the Lord’s family live usually in the shade; they are like those sweet flowers which bloom nowhere so well as in the darkest and thickest glades of the forest. Shall we dare to charge them with guilt on this account? If we do so, their extreme sensitiveness will lead them to plead guilty ;. they will be wounded to the quick, and by their very grief and ingenuous confession, they will unwittingly refute our cruel supposition. Some of these bedarkened travelers exhibit the rarest virtues and the most precious graces. They are, of course, wanting in some great points; But in others they so much excel that we are compelled to admire. The white and sickly lily is exceeding fair, although she has not the ruddy health which is the glory of the rose. We desire that these sons and daughters of mourning may come forth to the light, and rejoice in their Lord: but if they shall still tarry in the land of darkness, be it far from us to charge them with greater sin because they have less joy. We remember well the lines of the poet — “In this wild world the fondest and the best Are the most tried, meet troubled, and distrest.” f90 We will now venture to suggest some of the reasons for the Savior’s withdrawals. 1. Divine sovereignty is manifested in the communion of saints with their lord, as well as in every other step of the journey to heaven. He who giveth no account of his matters, out of his own absolute will and good pleasure may extinguish the lamps of comfort and quench the fires of joy, and yet give to his creature no reason for his conduct; yea, and find no reason in the creature, but exercise his kingly rights in the most uncontrolled and absolute manner. That all men may see that their best pleasures flow from the river of God, and are only to be found in him, and only to be obtained through his divine grace, he is pleased at certain seasons to dry up the springs, to close the fountain, and suspend the flowing of the stream; so that even the best of men languish, and all the godly of the earth do mourn.
Lest the green fir-tree should exalt itself by reason of its fruitfulness, as if it did garnish itself with beauty, the God of our salvation allows a withering and a blight to seize upon it that it may believe the sacred declaration, “FROM ME IS THY FAULT FOUND.”
God’s own glory is sometimes his only motive for action, and truly it is a reason so great and good that he who mocks at it must be a stranger to God, and cannot be truly humbled before him. It may be that the sole cause of our sad condition lies in the absolute will of God; if so, let us bend our heath in silence, and let him do what seemeth him good. Unhappy is our lot when our best Beloved is absent; but he shall do as he pleases, and we will sigh for his return; but we will not chide him for his absence: “What if God will use his absoluteness and prerogative in this .his dealing with his child, and proceed therein according to no ruled case or precedent? This he may do, and who shall cry, ‘ What doest thou?’” f91 We think, however, that this case is but o! rare occurrence, and we would, under every withdrawal, exhort the believer to look for same other cause, and only resort to this explanation when he can truly say, as in God’s sight, that with diligent searching he cannot discover another. Then let him remember that such trouble shall be richly recompensed even in this life, as Job’s poverty was fully restored by his double wealth. 2. Without this the believer could not enter into the depths of fellowship with Christ in his sufferings. The very worst of the Savior’s agonies lay in his desertion by God; the cry of “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” was the gall of the bitterness of the miseries of Jesus. Now, unless we had to endure a measure of the same excruciating torment of desertion, we could not enter into communion with him to any great degree. At the very deepest our fellowship is shallow; but give us the continued and invariable light of the Lord’s countenance, and we should forever remain little children in fellowship. Our Master desires that we may know him in his death, and sympathize with him in his sufferings. That eminent divine, Richard Sibbs, thus writes: “Now all of us must sip of that cup whereof Christ drank the dregs, having a taste of what it is to have God to forsake us. For the most part, those believers who live any time (especially those of great parts) God deals thus with; weaker Christians he is more indulgent unto. At such a time we know the use of a mediator, and how miserable our condition were without such an one, both to have borne and overcome the wrath of God for us! ” Again, the deeply experienced Thomas Goodwin says: “Though no creature was able to drink off Christ’s cup to the bottom, yet taste they might, and Christ tells them they should: ‘Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, f93a that is, taste of ‘inward affliction and desertion, as well as of outward persecution; and all to make us conformable to him, that we might come to know in part what he endured for us.” Sweet departure of Jesus, which thus enables us to approach the nearer to him! of all reasons for patience none can be more powerful than this. 3. Thus, in some men, the Lord works a preparation for eminent s ervice.
By the experience of sharp inward trouble, the Lord’s mighty men are prepared for the fight. To them the heat by day and the frost by night, the shoutings of the war, the spear and the battle-ax, are little things, for they have been trained in a sterner school. They are like plants which have lived ‘through the severities of winter, and can well defy the frosts of spring; they are like ships which have crossed the deep and have weathered the storm, and are not to be upset by every capful of wind. To them the loss of man’s applause is of small account, for they have endured the loss of Christ’s smile, and have yet trusted him. To them the contumely of a world, and the rage of hell, are nothing, for they have suffered what is a thousand times worse — they have passed under the cloud of Christ’s transient forsaking. They are wise, for, like Heman, their have been “afflicted and ready to die from their youth up,” and therefore, like him, they are fit to compare with Solomon in some things, and are wiser than he in others. They are useful, for Paul saith of such men, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one: in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”
There are no preachers in the world like those who have passed by the way of trouble to the gate of wisdom. Moses prized Hobab because he knew how to encamp in the wilderness, and so we value the minister who has learned as Hobab did, by living in the desert himself. Luther said Temptation was one of his masters in divinity. We will readily trust ourselves in the hands of a physician who has been himself sick of our disease, and has tried the remedies which he prescribes for US; SO we confide in the advice of the Christian who knows our trials by having felt them. What sweet words in season do tried saints address to mourners! they are the real sons of consolation, the truly good Samaritans. We who have a less rugged path, are apt to over-drive the lambs; but these have nourished and brought up children, and know how to feel for the weaknesses of the little ones. It is often remarked that after soul-sorrow our pastors are more gifted with words in season, and their speech is more full of savor: this is to be accounted for by the sweet influence of grief when sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Blessed Redeemer, we delight in thy love, and thy presence is the life of our joys; but if thy brief withdrawals qualify us for glorifying thee in cheering thy saints, we thank thee for standing behind the wall; and as we seek thee by night, it shall somewhat cheer us that thou art blessing us when thou takest away thy richest blessing.
By sad experience of apparent desertion we are some of us enabled to preach to sinners with greater affection and concern than we could have exhibited without it. Our bowels yearn over dying men, for we know what their miseries must be, if they die out of Christ. If our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is yet at times the cause of great heaviness, what must an eternal weight of torment be? These thoughts, begotten by our sorrow, are very useful in stirring up our hearts in preaching, for under such emotions we weep over them, we plead with them; and, as though God did beseech them by us, we pray them in Christ’s stead to be reconciled to God. For a proof thereof, let the reader turn to the Address to the Unconverted appended to this chapter it was written by one who for many years endured the gloom, of desertion. May God bless it to sinners! 4. The Lord Jesus sometimes hides himself from us, because by his foresight and prudence he is thus able to prevent the breaking forth, of evil.
Perhaps pride, would rise to an alarming height if the pining sickness of desertion did not somewhat abate its violence. If some men had all their desires the earth would need enlargement, for their pride would become intolerable to their fellows; and, certainly, while corruption still remains in our hearts, continual comfort would work somewhat in the same manner even in us. Because of the haughtiness, which so easily arises in the hearts of the Lord’s people if they have a little too much feasting, “the lord in his care and goodness is fain to hold them to hard meat, and to keep them to a spare diet” Sometimes, also, high living would bring on carelessness of walk. We should forget that we walk by faith, and not by sight, if it were not for intervals of darkness in which sense is put to its wit’s ends, and only faith is of use to us. Dependence is generally the mother of humility; as long as we feel the one we shall not be quite devoid of the other; therefore our Divine Lord, according to his own wisdom, gives us a bitter lesson in both, by stopping the supplies of joy and withholding his presence. The fact is, that in our present state much that is pleasant to us is not good for us. We are not able to endure the weight of glory, for our backs are weak, and we stagger under it. It is hard to hold a full cup with a steady hand. We are like the fire on the hearth, which can be extinguished by too much sunlight, as well as by floods of water; even joy can destroy’ us as well as grief. The Master said to his disciples, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” The incapacity of the saint may account for the comparative fewness of his delights. “As it is with a little bark, if it should have a great mainmast and broad sail cloths, then, instead of carrying it, it would be overthrown by them; therefore men proportion their mast according to their ship or bark; ‘and if it have skillful mariners, they strike sail when they come into the shallow or narrow seas.
This is the reason why the Lord so deals with us; the soul is like the ship, and the sense of God’s love and mercy is like the sail that carries us on in a Christian course; and if we get but little sail of mercy and favor, we go on sweetly and comfortably; but if God gives us abundance and assurance, our cursed rotten hearts would overturn, and instead of quickening us it would overthrow us; so that, though God doth it, the fault is in ourselves.” f99 If we have been sorely tried and severely exercised, our trials should read us a lesson upon the evil of our nature. Let us exclaim with that long afflicted saint, Mr. Rogers, “We that have tasted so much of his displeasure have cause to rejoice with trembling; every remembrance of that doleful time must be to us a new motive to obedience, and a powerful restraint of sin; he chastens us for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Oh, what an abundance of folly must there have been lodged in our hearts that God is forced to use so sharp and so severe a method to whip it out! How benumbed were we, that nothing else could awaken us!
How diseased, that nothing but a potion so bitter could promote our cure!
How great was our pride, that he was forced to beat it down by so violent a stroke. It must have been like the pride of Israel, to whom he saith, He led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; that he might humble thee, and prove thee. to do thee good in thy latter end.” 5. Our Lord Jesus designs also to try our faith. He will see whether we can trust him or no. When we see him by sensible enjoyment there is not that space for faith which his absence causes; and, moreover, to believe what we feel to be true is no hard matter, but to credit what present experience appears to contradict is a divine act which is most honorable to the grace which enables us to do it. Our faith is the center of the target at which God doth shoot when he tries us, and if any other grace shall escape untried, certainly faith shall not. There is no way of piercing faith to its very marrow like the sticking of the arrow of desertion in it; this finds it out whether it be of the immortals or no. Strip it of its armor of conscious enjoyment, and suffer the terrors of the Lord to set themselves in array against it, and that is faith indeed which can escape unhurt from the midst of the attack. Faith must be tried, and desertion is the furnace, heated seven times, into which it must be thrust. Blest is the man who can endure the ordeal. 6. A temporary withdrawal endears Christ to us upon his return, and gives the soul some idea of the infinite value of his smile. Constant enjoyment of any good thing is too much for our corrupt natures. Israel loathed the angel’s food, and sighed for the meaner fare of Egypt — the garlic and the onions; but if the manna had been stayed, how eagerly would they have clamored for its restoration! When rain falls in its needed season we scarcely stay to return thanks for the boon; but if it be withheld, how do we bless the drops and thank the God of heaven for theta. Sunlight is never more grateful than after a long watch in the midnight blackness; Christ’s presence is never more acceptable than after a time of weeping, on account of his departure. It is a sad thing that we should need to lose our mercies to teach us to be grateful for them; let us mourn over this crookedness of our nature; and let us strive to express our thankfulness for mercies, so that we may not have to lament their removal. Let us deal courteously, tenderly, obediently, and affectionately, with our glorious Lord, and it may be we shall reign him as a constant guest. 7. This also whets our appetite for heaven, and makes us thirst for the land of bliss. The world has a fascinating power which constrains us to love it, if all be well; but by removing the light of his face, our Lord Jesus breaks the spell, and delivers us from the overweening love of the creature. Weaning is sorrowful work, but it must be done: we must be made to groan in this body that we may be made ready for the unclothing, and the “clothing upon,” by which mortality shall be swallowed up of life. In heaven they see his face, and his name is in their foreheads; this incites the saint to pant for glory, that he may obtain uninterrupted fellowship with Jesus. 0 how sweet it must be to behold his face without the shadow of an intervening cloud; to dwell in his house, and go no more out forever; to lean upon his bosom, and never rise from that delightful posture! In our days of song and tabret we are still conscious that there is richer music in the upper world; but in the times of fasting and sighing, how do we cry out for the living God, and pant to appear before him. “God’s house is an hospital at one end, and a palace at the other. In the hospital end are Christ’s mere. hers upon earth, conflicting with various diseases, and confined to strict regimen of his appointing. What sort of a patient would he be, who would be sorry to be told that the hour is come for his dismission from the hospital, and to see the doors thrown wide open for his admission into the presence of the King.” Happy are the spirits who have ended their fight of faith, and now live in the raptures of a sight of Him; yea, thrice happy are the lowest of those seraphs who fly at his bidding, and do for ever behold the face of our Father which is in heaven. The drought of these dry plains stirreth us to desire the river of the water of life; the barren fig-trees of this weary land urge us to pursue a speedy path to the immortal trees upon the banks of the river of God; our clouds exhort us to fly above this lower sky up where unclouded ages roll; the very thorns and briers, the dust and heat of this world’s pilgrimage and strife, are powerful orators to excite cur highest thoughts to the things which are unseen and eternal. Thus the bitterness of time bids us desire the sweetness of immortality, and even prepares us for it.
In times of distress, when the withdrawal of Christ is caused by any of these causes, let the saint stay himself upon his God. The light is a pleasant thing, but :faith can walk without it. It is good to have the Lord’s presence, but let us remember that we are not saved by our enjoyments of him, but by his efficacy for us. We are full of sin, and in our distress we feel it, but He is full of grace and truth; let us believe His all-sufficiency, and rest in it.
His blood not our peace, his merit not our comfort, his perfection not our communion, — are the pillars of our salvation. We love his company, and the manifest sense of it is sweet indeed; but, if it be denied us, nevertheless “the foundation of God standeth sure.” J esus, the yea and amen, is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Our soul hangs upon him in the thick darkness, and glories in him in the storm. The promise, like an anchor, holds us fast; and, though the pilot sleeps, all must be well. It is not our eye on him which is our great protection, but his eye on us; let us be assured that although we cannot see him, he can see us, and, therefore, we are safe.
Whatever our frame or feeling, the heart of Jesus is full of love — love which was not caused by our good behavior, and is not diminished by our follies — love which is as sure in the night of darkness, as in the brightness of the day of joy. Therefore are we confident and full of hope, and we can sing with our favorite poet — “Away, despair; my gracious Lord doth hear, Though winds and waves assault my keel, He doth preserve it; he doth steer, Even when the boat seems most to reel.
Storms are the triumph of his art:
Well may he close his eyes, but not his heart.” f101 We never live so well as when we live on the Lord Jesus simply as he is, and not upon our enjoyments or raptures. Faith is never more likely to increase in strength than in times which seem adverse to her. When she is lightened of trust in joys, experiences, frames, feelings, and the like, she rises the nearer heaven, like the balloon when the bags of sand are emptied.
Trust in thy Redeemer’s strength, thou benighted soul; exercise what faith thou hast, and by-and-bye he shall arise upon thee with healing beneath his wings.
The next and last case has been already alluded to in the previous chapter.
Sin, with its hosts, closes the rear. We do not intend to do more than instance the special iniquities which more readily than any other will cause the Master to be gone. 8. Gross and foul offenses of any kind will drive the King from the soul very speedily. Let the believer bemire himself with lust, or put forth his hand unto violence, or speak lying or lascivious words — let him give great and scandalous cause to the enemy to blaspheme, — and, as surely as he is the Lord’s child, his back shall smart for it. If we lie in the bed of Jezebel, we shall not have the company of Jesus there. As soon expect to see an angel :in the sty with swine, as Christ Jesus in company with the filthy. Should we be left to commit adultery like David, we shall have our bones broken as he had; if we swear like Peter, we shall have to weep as bitterly as he; and if we flee like Jonah from the service of the Lord, we may expect to go into as great depths as he did. The sun will shine on the dunghill, but Christ will not shine on the backslider while he is indulging in his lusts. How terrible are the agonies of the mind when some surprising sin is visited upon us! In an ancient work, as rare as its own merits, we find the following: — “For he withdraweth his face and favor from us, kindleth his anger against us, and counteth us as his enemies; the horror of his wrath is as fire sent from above into our bones, and is as the arrows of the Almighty, the venom whereof drinketh up our spirit. He setteth our iniquities before himself, and our secret sins in the light of his countenance; he setteth them also :in our own sight, and our sin is before us continually ; with his hand he bindeth the yoke of our transgressions, and with them being laid upon our neck he maketh our strength to fail; bitter things doth he write against us, and maketh us to inherit the iniquities of our youth, so that there is nothing found in our flesh because of his anger, neither is ‘their rest in our bones because of our sin: our wounds stink and are corrupt; our veins are full of burning, our heart is as wax; it melteth in the midst of our bowels; our bones are parched like an hearth, and our moisture is turned to a summer drought, so heavy is his hand upon us night and day. F110 Then cry we out for grief of heart; we roar like bears, and mourn like doves; looking for judgment, but there is none — for salvation, but it is far from us; because our trespasses are many, both before him and ourselves, for which his terrors do fight against us, he visiteth us every morning, and trieth us every moment; setteth us as a mark against him, so that we are a burden to ourselves. Also, when we cry and shout, he shutteth out our prayer, and is even angry against it, f114 because our iniquities have separated between us and him, and our sins have hid his face from us, that he will not hear; so loathsome are our trespasses unto him, so venomous to ourselves is the biting of those fierce serpents.” Careless living, even if we fall not into open transgression, will soon build a wall between our Lord and the soul. If dally sins are unconfessed and unrepented of, they will daily accumulate until they form “mountains of division” between our adorable Friend and our own heart. A little filth acquired every day, if it be left unwashed, will make us as black as if we had been plunged in the mire; and as sin upon the conscience turns Christ’s joy out of the heart, it will be impossible for us to feel the delights of communion until all our everyday sins have been washed from the conscience by a fresh application of the atoning blood. Let us take heed that we offer the morning and evening lamb, constantly looking to the blood of the Great Sacrifice, and seeking a fresh discovery of its cleansing power. Neglect of prayer is a sad grief to the Holy Spirit, and will as soon cause the Lord to withdraw as open sin. How many of us from this cause have dropped the thread of communion, and so have lost the clue to happiness.
Jesus will never reveal himself in any marked manner unto us while we neglect the throne of grace. We must seclude ourselves if we would see our Beloved. It was s: sweet saying of Bernard, “0 saint, knowest thou not that thy husband, Christ, is bashful, and will not be familiar in company; retire thyself by meditation into thy closet, or into the fields, and there thou shalt have Christ’s embraces.” Rebekah went to the well, and was met by one ‘who gave her jewels of gold, and found her a husband; let us go to the well of prayer, and we shall meet Jesus, but those who tarry at home shall lack. Idleness in the ways of grace will also hinder communion. If we travel slowly, and loiter on the road, Jesus will go on before us, and sin will overtake us. If we are dilatory and lazy in the vineyard, the Master will not smile on us when he walks through his garden. Be active, and expect Christ to be with thee; be idle, and the thorns, and briars will grow so thickly, that he will be shut out of thy door. We should never mend our pace on Heaven’s road if our comforts did not fly ahead of us, so as to allure us to speed, by compelling us to pursue them. Unthankfulness will soon strip us of our joys. It is said of the sun, that none look at him except he be in an eclipse; and we fear we are all forgetful of Christ unless he veil his face: therefore, to chasten us for our ill manners, and incite us to a more loving carriage towards him, he will hide himself in darkness if we forget his goodness. Cowardice will also rob us of the Master’s manifest presence. The ancient saints who at any time, in order to avoid the stake, were led through weakness to deny their profession, were made sorely to rue the day that they ever did so weak a deed. And we, if we are ashamed of him in the time of rebuke and reproach must not look for any love-feasts with him.
Captains cannot simile on runaway soldiers, or even on men who quake in the moment of conflict. We must be valorous if we would be comforted; we must show ourselves men if we would have Christ show himself our loving friend. When Jonah runs from Nineveh he must not reckon upon his Lord’s company, except it be to rebuke and smite him. “In our English chronicles we read of the rare affection of Eleanor, the wife of Edward I., who, when the king had been wounded with a poisoned dagger, set her mouth to the wound to suck out the poison, venturing her own life to preserve her husband. Such is the strength of love in a healthy Christian, that were it necessary to suck poison out of the wounds of Jesus, he would be content to do so.” And this he will do in a spiritual sense, for if he can in no other way remove contempt and slander from the cause of Christ and his church, he will rather bear it himself than allow it to fall on his Master.
But if this noble spirit shall give place to mean self-seeking, and carnal care of our personal interests, the Lord will forsake the tabernacle where we dwell, and leave us to mourn the displeasure of our slighted friend. Harshness to the afflicted may bring us into deep waters. If the strong cattle push the weak with their horns, and thrust with the shoulder, they must have the fatness of their strength removed, and the glory of their horns cut off, that they may learn to deal gently with the tender-hearted and timid. When we hear a strong professor dealing roughly with any of the Lord’s afflicted, as sure as he is an heir of heaven he will in due time have cause to eat his words. That is an unhumbled heart which can allow hard thoughts concerning the little ones; and God will put that proud spirit into the dark until it can bear the infirmities of the weak. Be gentle, ye great in Zion, lest ye offend the poor and mean of the congregation. Pride casts a thick shadow over the path of any believer who indulges in it.
Men love not the proud — their company is a torment, and their very presence an offense; how much more obnoxious must it be to the Son of God! Especially must it be exceeding hateful in those who are indebted to grace for the very breath in their nostrils, and who, in themselves, are the most detestable of creatures, but are made the sons of God through great and unmerited mercy. When we become conceited with our choice experiences, admirable emotions, and marvelous discoveries, and in our imaginary greatness grow unmindful of the Giver of these good gifts, he will soon level us with the ground, and make us groan out of the dust. The smoke of the incense of our pride will blind the eyes to Christ, and hide Christ from the saint. Idolatrous love, whatever may be the object of it, is so abominable, that it will shut out the light of God’s countenance in a short space, unless it be destroyed, Rivals Jesus will not endure; and unless we give him the highest throne he will leave us to mourn his absence. Love not thy wealth, thy name, thy friends, thy life, thy comfort, thy husband, thy wife, or thy children, more than thou lovest him, or even so much; for he will either take them from thee, or else his own delightful presence, and the loss of either would be an evil not worth the idolatry which will surely engender it.
Set not your affection on things of earth, lest the comfortable enjoyment of Him who is from above should be withdrawn from thee. Unbelief, distrust, and worldly care, will also provoke him to return unto his place. If we cannot trust him with ourselves, and all that we have, he will not confide his heart with us. A fit of worldly anxiety has many a time cut off the streams of fellowship. Fretful trouble about many things is a fearful injury to the one thing. All the saints will confess that the fair flower of fellowship will not bloom in the atmosphere of carking care. That great rebel, Infidelity, will sometimes turn the key of the gates of Mansoul against the Prince Immanuel himself, and cause him to return to the palace of his Father. It is a high affront put upon the Lord Jesus when we presume to manage our own business instead of leaving all with him. The old puritan said, “Whenever we carve for ourselves we cut our own fingers! ” He might have added, “And worse still, we highly affront the Head of the feast, and cause him to withdraw from the table.” Oh! for grace to leave all with Christ; it cannot be in better hands, and our own care could never produce results which could for an instant be compared with the effects of his providential consideration.
But carnal security is the master-sin in this point. Hence, Bunyan makes a feast in the house of that deceitful old Diabolian, Mr. Carnal-Security, the scene of the discovery of the departure of Prince Immanuel. There is in carnal security a mixture of all other kinds of sin. It is a monster composed of the deformities of all the foul sins which man can commit. It is ingratitude, pride, worldliness, sloth, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence and rebellion in one. It is like those fabled monsters which bore ‘a resemblance to every other creature, inasmuch as the most terrible parts of every beast were in them united into one hideous monstrosity.
Now whenever self-confidence grows in the heart, and destroys our implicit dependence and our unfeigned humility, it will not be long before Christ and the soul will be far apart — .so far as any comfortable communion is concerned.
It only remains to add that as we are differently constituted, certain sins will have greater power over one than another, and hence one sin may drive the Savior from one believer, and an opposite sin may grieve him in another; indeed, any one sin, if harbored against light and knowledge, is quite sufficient to cast the mind into the doleful condition of a deserted soul. Constant watchfulness is necessary in order to the preservation of communion: but of this we will say more in another place.
It will be hard work to sustain faith when sin is arrived at such a dangerous height; but in order that the believer may be able to do so, by the divine power of the Holy Spirit, let him reflect that his present mournful condition is no sign that he is cast away — nay, let him believe it to be the very reverse. If the Lord Jesus had not looked upon him, he would never have known how evil a thing it is to lose a sense of his love. Blind men do not miss the light when it is removed by the setting of the sun; and if the afflicted soul were wholly blind, he would not lament the hiding of the Sun of righteousness. But if this is too high a comfort, let him remember that there is still a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness; and while he sorrows for his absent Lord let him not despair, but let him still look to the cross, and hope. Let the deserted one confess his ill-descryings, but let him remember that his sin is laid upon the head of Jesus. Punishment for sin is not in any degree mixed up with the withdrawal which he is now experiencing. The believer owes nothing to punitive justice, and therefore nothing can be exacted of him. “Though the sufferings of Christ do not secure us from sufferings, they change the nature and design of our afflictions, so that, instead of their being punishments, they are corrections, and are inflicted not by the sword of the Judge, but by the rod of the Father.” Let the believer hear the voice of comfort: — “ Thou hast not a farthing of debt to pay to God’s law; there is no indictment against thee, nor a bill for thee to answer — Christ has paid all. ” Christ’s departure is not for thy death, but to promote thy better life. He is not gone to demand a writ against thee, he is but absent to make thee purge out the old leaven, that he may come and keep the feast with thee.
Remember also that a change in the outward dealings of the Lord Jesus is not to be looked upon as an alteration in his love. He has as much affection for us when he puts us in the prison-house of desertion as when he leads us into the pavilion of communion. Immutability will not allow of the shadow of a turning; and as immutability is stamped as much upon the affection of Christ as upon his divinity itself, it follows that our variable condition produces no change in him. “Immutable his will; Though dark may be my frame, His loving heart is still Unchangeably the same.
My soul through many changes goes; His love no variation knows.” That holy martyr, Master John Bradford, thus comforted himself and his friends in a time of gloom — “The mother sometimes beateth the child, but yet her heart melteth upon it even in the very beating; and therefore she casteth the rod into the fire, and calleth the child, giveth it an apple, and dandleth it most motherly. And to say the truth, the love of mothers to their children is but a trace to train us up to behold the love of God towards us; and therefore saith he, ‘ Can a mother forget the child of her womb?’ as much as to say, ‘ No, but if she should do so, yet will I not forget thee, saith the Lord of Hosts.’ Ah, comfortable saying — I will not forget thee.”
Wait awhile, and the light which is sown for the righteous shall bring forth a harvest or delights; but water the ground with the tears of thy repentance, lest the seed should long tarry under the clods. As sure as thou art a quickened soul thou wilt, in the dreary winter of thy Lord’s absence, pant for renewed communion; and be thou sure to use all means to obtain this boon. Do as thou didst when thou didst first come to Christ. Read and practice the directions given to the seeking sinner in the third chapter, for they are well-adapted to thine own case, and then take the advice which follows: — 1. Hunt out and slay the sin which has caused the coolness of fellowship between thee and thy Lord. 2. Most humbly confess this sin, and ask grace to avoid it in future. 3. Come again as a poor guilty sinner to the cross of Christ, and put thy trust implicitly in him who died upon it. 4. Use thy closet and thy Bible more frequently, and with more earnestness. 5. Be active in serving Christ, and patient in waiting for him, and ere long he will appear to cheer thy spirit with floods of his surpassing love. If all these fail thee, tarry the leisure of thy Master, and thy work shall certainly be rewarded in due time.
May God the Holy Spirit, by his divine influence, bedew with grace the pages of this chapter, that they may minister-grace to the afflicted reader.
TO THE UNCONVERTED READER.
SINNER, we beseech thee listen to the warnings of one who was for a long time sad and sick on account of the hidings of his Lord’s face. He was a true and eminent saint, yet mark his sorrows, and let them awaken thee to fear the wrath to come: “Oh, sinners! I have dearly paid for all the delight I once had in sin, — for all my indifference and lukewarmness, my cold and sluggish prayers, my lost and misimproved time. Beware that you do not provoke him, for he is a jealous God; for if you do, you shall also find that those sins which you make a slight matter of, will tear you to pieces hereafter. You will find them, when your consciences are awakened, to be a heavy and intolerable burden; they will press you down to hell itself.! could not have thought that the displeasure of God had been a thing so bitter, and so very dreadful. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for he is a consuming fire: if his anger be kindled but a little, you cannot then fix your mind upon any pleasant objects, nor have one easy thought; you cannot then go about your business, your trade, or your secular affairs, for your souls will be so much amazed that you will be full of horror and consternation. Those of us who have felt the terrors of the Lord, do most earnestly persuade you to forsake every sin; for if you indulge in and love your iniquities, they will set you on fire round about. Oh, that you did but know what you do when you sin! You are opposing that authority that will avenge itself of all its obstinate opposers; you are heaping up fuel for your own destruction; you are whetting that sword Which will enter into your bowels; you are preparing yourselves for bitterness and trouble; and though God is patient for awhile, yet he will not always be so: the shadows of the night are drawing on, and the doleful time will come when all your mirth will end in tears, and all your false confidence and your foolish hopes will expire and give up the ghost. And which of you will live when God shall enter into judgment with you? What will you do? Where will you go for help when he who is your Maker, — he who has weighed your actions,’ and observed your wanderings, shall call you to give an account of all these things? If our blessed Lord, when he came near Jerusalem, lifted up his voice and wept, saying, Oh, that thou hadst known, even thou in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace! what cause have we to mourn over our fellow-creatures, whom we see to be in danger of misery, and, alas, they know ‘t not! Can we see them sleeping on the very edge of ruin, and not be greatly troubled for them I Oh, poor sinners, you are now sleeping, but the judge is at the door; you are rolling the pleasant morsel under your tongue, but it will be great vexation to you in the end. How can you rest? how can you be quiet when you have none of your sins pardoned? No comfortable relation to God! no well-grounded hope of heaven! How can you, with any assurance, go about those things that concern your buying, your selling, and the present life, when your poor souls, that are of a thousand times more value, are neglected all the while!
We have felt great terrors, inexpressible sorrows, from an angry God, and we would fain persuade you not to run upon the thick bosses of his buckler, not to dare his justice, not to despise his threats as once it was our folly: but we knew not what we did. We are come out of Feat tribulation, and a fiery furnace, and we would fain persuade you to avoid the like danger; let what we have felt be a caution to you. It was the desire of Dives, in his misery, that he might leave it to go thence to warn his brethren lest they came to the same place of torment; but it could not be granted. Some of us here come from the very gates of hell to warn you that you may not go thither, — nay, to warn you that you may never go so near it as we did. We wish you so well that we would not have any of you to feel so much sorrow and grief as we have felt. We were once asleep, as you are; we did not imagine that terror and desolation were so near when they came upon us; and now, having been overtaken by a storm of wrath, we come to warn you that we see the clouds gather, that there is a sound of much rain and of great misery, though your eyes are so fixed on things below, that you see it not. You must speedily arise and seek for a shelter, as you value the salvation of your souls; you must not put off serious thoughts for your own safety, not for one day, not for one hour longer, lest it be too late. We were traveling with as little thought of danger as some of you, and we fell among thieves; they plundered us of our peace and comfort, and we were even ready to die, when that God, whose just displeasure brought us low, was pleased to take pity on us, and to send his Son, as the kind Samaritan, to bind up our wounds and to cheer our hearts; and we cannot be so uncharitable! as not to tell you, when we see you going the same way, that there are robbers on the road, and that if you do not either return or change your course you will smart for your temerity as much as we have done. We have been saved indeed at length from our fears, as by .fire; but we suffered, while they remained, very great loss.
Some, perhaps, will be saying within themselves, ‘l shall see no evil, though I walk in the imaginations of my own heart. These things you talk of are the mere product of a melancholy temper, that always presages the worst, — that is always frighting itself and others with black and .formidable ideas; and seeing I am no way inclinable to that distemper, I need not fear any such perplexing thoughts. ’ But know that no briskness of temper, no sanguine courageous hopes, no jollities nor diversions, can fence you from the wrath of God. If you go on in sin, you must feel the bitterness of it either in this or the next world; and that may, notwithstanding all the strength of your constitution, all the pleasures of your unfearing youth, come upon a sudden. Your souls are always naked and open before God, and he can make terrible impressions of wrath there when he will, though by your cheerfulness and mirth you seem to be at the greatest distance from it.” “Ye bold, blaspheming souls, Whose conscience nothing scares; Ye carnal, cold, professing fools, Whose state’s as bad as theirs. “Repent, or you’re undone, And pray to God with speed; Perhaps the truth may yet be known, And make you free indeed. “The hour of death draws nigh, ‘Tis time to, drop the mask; Fall at the feet of Christ, and cry:
He gives to all that ask,”