by William Bridge
It is possible that the saints and people of God may be much discouraged and cast down: though there be an inward peace and quietness of soul, which they are ordinarily endued with, yet possibly this peace may be interrupted, and themselves much discouraged and cast down.
There are two words in the text which say as much; castdown, disquieted. And three times in this Psalm, the Psalmist says his soul was cast down within him; yet this David was a man of great peace and comfort ordinarily.
And as with David, so it was, is, and will be with other saints. This is so ordinary a case, that the Holy Ghost has provided a standing psalm, or prayer, on purpose for such as are in this condition: Psalm 10:2, the tide, “A prayer or psalm of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.” In Psalm 119:25, he says, “My belly cleaveth unto the dust”; and that is low indeed. And verse 28, “My soul melteth for heaviness”: I am not only sad and heavy, but my soul melteth for heaviness.
In Song of Sol. 5:6, the spouse says, “Her heart was gone”; or, “My soul failed within me.” And if we look into Psalm 143, we find at the 4th verse, that the Psalmist says, “My spirit is overwhelmed, and my heart within me is desolate.” What do all these expressions high, great, and many, speak, but this truth that is now before us?
For the more full clearing and opening of it, I shall labour to show —
First, How far it is possible for a good man to be discouraged, or cast down.
Secondly, How it comes to pass that he is so discouraged.
Thirdly, How those discouragements can stand with his grace and goodness.
Fourthly, How they may be healed and cured.
And first, if you ask, How far the discouragements of saints may reach: for, some will say, I know it is possible that the most gracious, holy man may be much discouraged, but not with such discouragements as mine are: I answer,
1. What are yours? Are you so far disquieted, discouraged, cast down, as to refuse the word, promise, or consolation that is brought unto you? So far may the discouragements of the saints extend: Psalm 77:3, “I remembered God, and was troubled.” He does not say, “I remembered my sin, and was troubled,” but God; Yea, I was not only troubled, but “I did complain, and my spirit was overwhelmed.” But when the promise came, and mercy came, and comfort came, did he refuse that too? Yes! verse 2, “My soul refused to be comforted.”
2. Are you so far discouraged, disquieted, cast down, that your very body feels the smart of your discouragements? that you not only refuse the promise, and all comfort for your soul, but even for your body? Then look into Psalm 102, and see if your case may not be paralleled, verse 4, “My heart is smitten, and withered like grass, so that I forget to eat my bread”; verse 5, “By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones cleave to my skin”: verse 6, “I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am like an owl of the desert”: verse 9, “I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping”: verse 10, “Because of thine indignation and thy wrath; for thou hast lifted me up and cast me down”: verse 11, “My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.” Oh, you say, but I am not only so far discouraged as to refuse comfort for soul and body, but my soul refuses duty, and casts off duty too for the present.
3. Therefore, it is possible that a good and gracious man's discouragements may extend thus far too. You will think it strange that I find an instance for this in that holy man Jeremiah; yet if you look into Jer. 20:7-9, you find it made good. Indeed, says he, “God's word was as fire in my bones, and I could not forbear.” But for the time he did resolve to forbear preaching in the name of God, which was his duty, which he had commission to do: for, says he, “I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name,” This holy, gracious man was under temptation, he was much discouraged, and thereupon he said so. Yet, verse 13, he says, “Sing unto the Lord, praise ye the Lord; for he hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evildoers.” But then mark the next words; “Cursed be the day wherein I was born; let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, A man child is born to thee.” What a sudden change was here, even in the best of the saints, from encouragements to discouragements. Oh, says one, but I have not only cursed the day of my birth, as Jeremiah, and wished that I had never been born; but I am weary of my life, and have sought after mine own death: and was there ever any godly, gracious man, that was thus discouraged, and cast down?
Yes! What think you of Job? “My soul is weary of my life,” 10:1. And in the 3rd chapter, Job, pouring out his complaint in regard of himself, says, verses 20-21, “Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul? Which long for death, but it cometh not, and dig for it more than for hid treasures.” Now you know that those who dig for gold and silver dig industriously and earnestly. Thus it is with me, says Job, I am so afflicted, and distressed, and in such bitterness of soul, that I long for death, and dig for it as for hid treasures.
Oh, what a mighty deep of discouragements may the saints and people of God fall into, and yet be godly and gracious!
Secondly, But why does God permit His own people and dearest children to be thus discouraged, and their peace to be interrupted? I know, some will say, that all our present joy and comfort, is but creature joy and comfort, and so may be eclipsed; and that Satan is near unto the best of God's children, thrusting and pushing them forward into these discouragements, that they may be like unto himself who is a discouraged spirit: but why does God suffer it to be so?
In general, it is for their good. For their good they have peace and comfort, and for their good they lack peace and comfort. The star which led the wise men to Christ, did not always go before them, but sometimes it appeared, sometimes it was hidden from them: but both appearance and hiding was for their benefit. Its first appearance invited them to Christ, and its withdrawal made them more diligent in seeking after Him. So when Christ hid Himself from His mother Mary, she sought Him the more, and when she found Him, she rejoiced the more: but both His absence and His presence, her fear and her comfort, was for her good. His absence did increase and draw out her desires, and His presence did increase and draw out her joys. When God is absent from us, then we have testimonies of our love to God, by our desires after Him; and when He is present, then we have testimonies of His love to us, by the shining of His countenance; so that whether God shines or not, whether we have comfort or not, both are for our good. Thus in the general, but yet more particularly.
1. You know it is God's way and manner to deal with the children of men according to their various dispositions, to stoop and condescend unto their infirmities: therefore says the prophet Hosea, “I drew them with cords of a man,” Hosea 11:4. Now it is man's disposition to come to God at the second hand. So long as man can find a fulness in any creature, he comes not to God; but first he sees an emptiness in the creature, duty and ordinance, and then he says, Oh what a fulness is in God Himself, in Christ Himself! “The widow that is desolate, trusteth in God,” 1 Tim. 5:5. Though a widow, yet if not desolate sometimes, she would not trust; and therefore God permits a desolation to come upon her widowhood. When David's men took up stones to have stoned him, then, says the text, “He encouraged himself in the Lord his God,” 1 Sam. 30:6. So long as man has encouragement elsewhere, he does not encourage himself in the Lord his God. This being man's nature, and God having a design of love upon His own children, He permits a damp and discouragement to pass upon all their comforts: their peace to be interrupted, their hearts disquieted, and their souls discouraged, that so they may encourage themselves in God alone.
2. This inward peace and quietness of soul is so great a commodity, that God would have the price to be enhanced and raised. Common and ordinary blessings once lost, and found again, become extraordinary. It is a common and ordinary mercy that a man sits in his shop, and walks up and down in his trade. But if he be sick awhile, lose his health, and be not able for five or six weeks to look into his shop; if then he can get down but one day, Oh, says he, what an extraordinary mercy and blessing is it, that I should go down again. Thus the interruption of an ordinary blessing does raise it to an extraordinary. So long as a man has his health and strength, though he be able to travel, forty, fifty, threescore miles a day, he is not much affected therewith; but if he be sick a little, and at death's door, and then begins to recover, though he can but put forth his hand, or stir his leg, he blesses God, and says, Oh, friends, I can stir myself in my bed, I can move my hand, or my leg; what an extraordinary mercy and blessing is this! So in this case, so long as a man has inward peace and quietness of soul without interruption, he looks upon it as a common mercy and blessing; but if his peace be a little interrupted, and his soul buffeted by Satan, and then he recovers his peace, Oh, says he, what an extraordinary blessing and mercy is this! Now God will sometimes raise the price of this commodity from an ordinary to an extraordinary blessing, and therefore He doth permit His own children and dearest servants to be thus discouraged, and their peace to be interrupted.
3. God is a tender Father, and He would have all the love of His children. He would not have His children to love their nurse more than Himself: our joy and peace and comfort is but the nurse of our graces. Now when God sees that His children fall in love more with the nurse than with Himself, then He removes the nurse, and causes their peace to be suspended and interrupted. He will not have the nurse to be loved more than Himself.
4. Sometimes God permits this cloud to arise upon the peace and comforts of His people, that He may train them up unto more perfection. Comfort is the children's milk. You may observe, therefore, that the weaker Christian has sometimes more lively, sensible comforts than the stronger Christian has. Why? Because this inward joy and peace and comfort is that milk and sweet honey, whereby they are drawn off from the pleasures and sweetness of the world; and as these comforts do wean us from the world's comforts, so we have need to be weaned again from these weaners. This God does sometimes by the restraining of them, and so we grow up unto more perfection.
5. Sometimes, again, God sees his children grow vain and light and frothy and wanton and secure under their peace and comfort, and then He withdraws Himself, hides His face, and so they lose their comfort. This was the case in Song of Sol. 5, where the spouse says, “My soul faileth within me,” at verse 6. But why? “I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had withdrawn himself”: and why had he withdrawn himself? He comes and makes overtures of love and mercy, verse 2, and she would have none, verse 3, “I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them?” that is, I am now laid to sleep. These are words that imply security, and upon her security he withdraws himself: then her soul fails within her. And thus it is many times with the children of God; the Lord sees that they grow secure, vain, frothy and wanton under their peace and comfort; then He withdraws Himself, and their peace fails.
6. Our Lord and Saviour Christ is a tender chirurgion,1 who has set all our bones which we ourselves have broken by our sins. You know that a wise and an honest chirurgion, though he desire his patient may be quickly cured, yet if he sees the plaister does not lie right, he takes it off again, for it is not laid right, says he. Christ does likewise; He sees that the comforts of His people sometimes are not right laid, and therefore, says He, though I desire this poor wounded soul may be quickly cured, yet because this comfort, this promise, this experience does not lie right, it must be taken off again. Now the comforts of the saints are so laid sometimes, that the very laying of them breeds discomfort. As in the sowing of seed; it is not enough that the seed be good, but it must be well sown, else the very sowing thereof may cause weeds. So, though light be sown for the righteous, yet sometimes it is so sown, as that the very sowing thereof breeds the weeds of fears and discouragements. Then you may say, and that without prophecy, Here is a poor soul that ere long will be much discouraged, though for the present full of comfort.
But this is hard to say: can you foretell a man's discouragements, even in the time of his comfort? Who is there among all the saints so comforted, concerning whom you may say, Surely this man will be much discouraged again?
When a man, a good man, depends for his spiritual comfort upon outward blessings, you may say beforehand: This man's comfort will never hold, but ere long he will be much disquieted. This was the reason why the saints, in the time of the Old Testament, laboured under so many discouragements, even because they measured the love of God so much by these outward blessings. Psalm 143:4, “Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me.” Why so? Verse 3, “Because the enemy prevailed.” He measured God's love too much by these outward things, and therefore when the enemy broke in upon him, he thought God did not love him, and so he was overwhelmed; so it is in regard to all outward blessings. If you meet with a man who obtains his persuasion of God's love from the smiles of any creature, you may say of such a man beforehand, Oh, this poor soul ere long will be in the dark, and under some discouragements.
When a man is unthankful for true peace, and unhumbled for false peace, he cannot hold his peace long. Before a man is converted, he has peace within; “For when the strong man keeps the house, all is at peace,” Luke 11:21. But it is false peace. After a man is converted, he has peace within, and it is true peace. God expects that a man should be humbled for his former false peace, and thankful for his present true peace. Now when God sees one both unhumbled for false peace, and unthankful for his present true peace, the Spirit of the Lord is grieved, and withdraws, and the soul is comfortless.
When a man draws his comfort only from something that he finds within himself; from grace that he finds within, and not from grace without; from Christ within, and not from Christ without; then his comfort will not hold. Perpetuum est quod habet causam perpetuantem (that is perpetual, which hath a perpetuating cause). Grace without is perpetual; that is to say, Christ's own personal obedience, in the merit of it, is perpetual. But the actings of grace within us are not perpetual, or not perpetually obvious to sight, and therefore cannot perpetually comfort. Indeed, our grace within, and our obedience, is in some respects a cause of our peace. First, a causa sine qua non (an indispensable condition), a cause without which we can have no comfort; for a godly man can have no comfort, if he have no obedience. Secondly, a cause which does removere prohibens (remove what hinders) our comfort, namely, our sin. Thirdly, a cause witnessing: for there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water and the blood; water, which is our sanctification, is one. Fourthly, a cause confirming; for by our obedience and sanctification our justification is confirmed, and the sense we have thereof. Thus obedience is one cause, but not the only cause, of our peace, nor the principal cause. When therefore you see the streams of a man's comfort run in this channel, when he draws all his comfort only, or principally, from his obedience, or the actings of grace within, then you may say: Though the stream be now full, stay but a little, and ere long you will see it dried, and this man will be much discouraged.
When a man, a good man, depends for his comfort upon the impression, or comings in of the Word, rather than upon the Word itself, then his comfort will not hold. For example, suppose a man take the Bible, and upon the opening thereof pitches on some promise. For the present he is much refreshed and comforted. Or suppose that he does not open the Bible, nor read the Scripture, but as he sits down in a dark condition, some promise comes to him which before he thought not of. Now at the coming of this promise his heart is much encouraged, warmed and comforted, insomuch that he concludes, saying, Now I am a child of God, now I know that God loves me, and that I have a share in Christ. This man draws his comfort either from the Word itself, or from the comings in of the Word; if from the Word itself, how can his comfort die? if upon the bare coming in of the Word, how can his comfort live? For when a word comes not, then his comforts fail. We read in Psalm 16, “He shall multiply sorrows that hasteneth after another.” Your translation reads it thus, “Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another God”; but the word “God” is not in the Hebrew. The whole verse is the utterance of Christ. What says He at verse 2? “Oh my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness (holiness, or righteousness) is not for thee, but for the saints that are in the earth, and for the excellent in whom is all my delight.” But O Lord, our Saviour, what if we do not go to Thy goodness, holiness and righteousness, resting upon that alone? He answers, “Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another.” And is not this to hasten after another, when men rest upon the bare coming in of the Word, or the impressions on the heart that are made thereby? Turn from one end of the Bible to the other; where do we read that Christ has appointed any such way of comfort as this, that a man should raise his comforts from pitching,2 or by an opening of the book? If I pitch upon a promise today, and so have comfort, may I not pitch upon a threatening tomorrow, and so have no comfort again? Where has Christ appointed any such way as this, that I should measure God's love, or judge of my everlasting condition by the coming to mind of a particular word? Indeed, God does sometimes by His providence, upon the opening of the Bible, cause our eye to fall upon some promise! which is a providential comfort; He does sometimes send a particular word to stay and bear up the soul in a particular distress or affliction, but not that I should measure His everlasting love, or judge of my condition by the coming in of every word. This is to hasten after another; and how many sorrows are multiplied upon the hearts of God's people hereby! How many poor souls there are that walk in this way! God our Father sees it, that the plaister is not right laid, and so He is fain to take it off, but all from a design of love, to lay it right; and for these reasons God suffers His own people to be much discouraged.
Thirdly, but how can all this stand with grace? Can a man be thus comforted and discouraged, discouraged and then comforted again, and yet judge himself to be in Christ, and in a gracious and holy state?
Yes: for though there be much evil in this traversing up and down, yet in the saints there is always a mixture of some grace withal, some grace mixed with their discouragements. Take the saints and people of God; though they be much discouraged and cast down, yet still they mourn after God; and though they cannot wait so patiently as they would, yet they say in truth, if they did but know that God would come at last, they would wait all their lives. Here is grace. And though they cannot mourn for sins past, for which they are most disquieted, yet they dare not put forth their hand willingly unto any sin present. I have read of one that was so troubled and cast down, that he said and thought: “I find so little comfort in my soul, that I would willingly suffer my body to live in burning fire until Christ's coming, so that I might but have the assurance of God's love and favour; and though I am persuaded I shall go to hell, yet my hope is, that my pains here will be mitigated there”: in all which trouble, says my author, nothing in the world could persuade him to do anything willingly that was displeasing to God. This man was at the last comforted, and then he would often say, “The devil took advantage of my sorrow over evil things, to make me unthankful for good things.” But I speak this to shew that the saints are never so discouraged, but still there is a grace that is found in them—they dare not sin. Yea, and though by their very discouragements they sin against the gospel in their unbelief, yet by the same discouragements they are kept from their sins against the law, these discouragements being as the lees that keep the wines.
Yea, and though they rest too much upon their righteousness, whereby their feet sink into various sloughs, yet it is because they would be the more obedient to God their Father, and in the midst of all their discouragement they profess in truth that they would give all the world for the presence of God. Here is grace, a mixture of grace withal. No marvel, therefore, that these discouragements may be found in a godly gracious man.
But is there no evil in this, to be thus fluctuating to and fro, comforted and then discouraged? is there no evil in these discouragements?
Much, very much! I shall not enter into the particulars. But how can they improve3 Christ as they should in this condition? So long as a man's title to his land is in question, he will not sow his ground, or build houses. If you ask him, Why do you not sow your ground, and repair your houses? his answer is ready: I dare not layout much cost, because my title is in question. So here; as long as a man's, title to Christ is in question, he cannot improve4 Christ as he should. If a man be going a journey, and know not his way, he loses much of his way and of the comfort of it in inquiring after the way, and wondering whether he be right or wrong. When he comes at three or four turnings, there he stands while he might ride a mile. When he comes above in the field, and sees a shepherd at a distance from him, he rides up to him to inquire whether he be in the way or not. Yea, and all the day long he is thinking of his way, whether he be right; whereas, if he knew his way, he might have many precious thoughts of God and of the Word. So in this case, while a man is doubting and fearing, and knows not whether he be in the way to heaven or no, how much precious time is lost! thoughts of Christ lost! thankfulness for mercy lost! Of all hearts, the Scripture says, an unbelieving heart is an evil heart; and when men's hearts are discouraged and cast down, are they not unbelieving? Who would not therefore take heed of these discouragements, and of the interruption of their peace?
Fourthly, but suppose now that I have lost my comforts? In former times my soul was full of joy, but now I am quite discouraged; what should a poor soul do to recover his peace and comfort again, that uninterrupted peace may be restored?
Some things by way of question; some things by way of doctrine.
1. Have you forgotten the years of the right hand of the Most High? Have you lost all your experience too? I know that usually when our comforts fail, our former experiences fail, yet not always; for the Psalmist says here, “My soul is cast down,” (verse 5) yet at the same time, verse 6, he says, “Therefore I will remember thee from the land of Jordan and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.” So too in Psalm 77. The Psalmist having said at the 7th verse, “Will the Lord cast off for ever; and will he be favourable no more? is his mercy clean gone for ever, and doth his promise fail for evermore? hath God forgotten to be gracious?” He adds in the same breath, “But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” You know what the disciples said, “Did not our hearts glow within us while he opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 4:3. Beloved! you have no comfort now; but you remember at such and such a time, when you were all alone in your chamber, and no soul was near you, how the Lord came and opened the Scriptures, and brought the promise to your soul, wherewith your heart did glow within you. Have you quite forgotten the openings of those Scriptures to you? I speak not of the glowings, for I suppose they are now gone, but are the Scriptures gone that were then opened to you? Did not you say in your last troubled and down-cast condition: If ever the Lord appear to me again, I will never doubt of His mercy more? And did He not appear unto you and open the promise unto your heart? Have you now forgotten these things? This is your infirmity. Why should you not remember the days and times and works and experiences of the right hand of the Most High?
2. Do you not use the means for the restoring of your comforts in such a manner as causes you to lose them the more? A man may have great desire after some preferment and place, which many ride for, but one is so hasty that he rides over hedge and ditch, and thereby falls and hurts himself; so others get before him, and by his too much haste, he loses his place. Thus it is sometimes with good people; they make so much haste to their comfort, that they lose it by their haste. They would have it sooner if they went on in an ordinary way of waiting on God without such posting haste. But they must have it today. Oh, let me know my interest in Christ today, says one, or else I am undone for ever. Thus, by stinting and limiting God to a time, they tempt the Holy One, and so are more distant from their comfort. The more the child cries, and is froward under the rod, the longer is the rod continued.
Some seek comfort in a way of reason, and think to reason out their temptation, and to reason in their comfort, but as one says well, Dispute not with God lest you be confounded; dispute not with Satan lest you be deceived.
Some again tire themselves in duty, neglecting their calling. The truth is, prayer is a friend to comfort, and more than ordinary time is to be used in prayer for those that are troubled in conscience. But when men under temptations and without comforts throw up their callings, thinking that nothing is to be done but prayer, by throwing aside their calling they lay themselves open to more temptations of Satan. They do so tire out their natural spirits in duty, that they are flat and dead in duty, so their temptations are the more increased, and their comforts more distanced. Wherefore, if you would have comfort restored again, consider whether you do not use the means of comfort in such a manner as to set you at a further distance from it.
3. Consider, too, whether you have not strained after, and reached for, some outward comfort so far, as to lose your inward comfort? I read of Francis Spira, that when he was in horror of conscience, he could not with peace and quietness behold his wife and children, for to get an estate for them he denied the truth, and therefore when they came before him in his trouble, he cried out in much horror, How terrible is the sight of these to me! They had been comforts to him before, yet now he could not bear the sight of them. Oh, thought he, for your sakes and for your provision I have denied the truth and yielded to these superstitions; and therefore says he, How terrible is the sight of these unto me! What peace or comfort had Judas in the sight of his thirty pieces of silver? Look what outward comfort a man strains his conscience for. That will be death unto him to behold. We read of David, that when his men had ventured for the water of Bethlehem, he would not drink of it, but poured it out before the Lord, for, said he, “Why should I drink the blood of these men?” He did not sin in desiring it, nor did he command his men to venture through the enemy's quarters, for they are but words of wishing: “Who will give me to drink of the waters of Bethlehem?” that is, Oh, that I had the waters of Bethlehem! But though he sinned not in his desires, yet when he had the waters, he poured them forth before the Lord, and said, “God forbid that I should drink the blood of these men,” And will you drink the blood of your own conscience? Time was heretofore when you had peace and comfort, but by straining and stretching your conscience for your outward comfort, now you have lost your inward. Will you not then take that outward comfort, and pour it forth before the Lord, and say, God forbid that I should drink the blood of mine own peace and comfort? How can any of you have peace while those stolen and unrestored goods lie by you?
But you say, Alas! all my comforts lie prostrate at the feet of my fears, and now I have no peace at all: what shall I do that my peace and comfort may be restored?
By way of direction, three things.
1. Look what you would do if you were seeking to be justified, and do the same now. If I were seeking to be justified, having a sight of my own sin and nature, I would, through grace, come to the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and rest the weight of my poor, guilty soul upon it; which act of faith would justify me, and give me peace; for “being justified by faith (says the apostle), we have peace with God.”
And as faith justifies and gives peace at the first, so the renewing of this act of faith renews our peace. And what is my justifying faith, but in time of temptation to rest myself and condition upon Christ alone, saying, Whether godly or ungodly, whether in Christ or not in Christ, now I do not dispute, but rest myself upon Christ alone. This do again, and this will bring peace again.
2. You have now lost your comforts and the shinings of God's face. Either God has withdrawn Himself for your sin, or not; if not for your sin, He will return again, and that quickly too; if for your sin, labour more and more to find it out, and to be humbled for it.
I know you will say, Oh, but now in this condition I can not be humbled. But withal remember, that in this condition, that goes for humbling which did not before, and God will take that for humiliation now, which He would not take before. In Psalm 32, David says, “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” He said he would do it, but did not do it fully, yet “Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” God accepted his humiliation although it was very low. Why? In verses 3 and 4, we find him under temptation and in much discouragement, for says he, “My bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long; for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” Yet how ready was God to receive an acknowledgment and a little humiliation from him at this time.
Oh, you say, but what is all this to us? This was David's case. Nay, says David, this is not my case alone, for mark verse 6, “For this shall everyone that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found.” God will receive a little when you are much discouraged. Either therefore God has withdrawn for your sin, or not; if not, wait but a little, He will return again; if for your sin, labour more and more to be humbled for it, for He will receive that measure of humiliation now which He will not do at any other time.
3. Are all your comforts gone, and would you fain have them restored? Then read and read the Scriptures much. If you cannot read them yourself, get some others to read them to you. When a man's mind is empty, as in temptation and want of comfort, it is empty of Christ, and full of fear, then it grinds itself, as in a quern or mill when empty of corn, one stone grinds another. The more full a man's mind is, the more free from temptations and fears. Now Scripture matter is the most filling matter. The more you see Christ walking in the sweet shades of divine love toward poor sinners, the sooner will your faith revive, and your comforts be restored. And where can you see Jesus Christ walking, and taking His turns with poor sinners under the shades of divine love, but in the Scriptures? Stand there awhile, and you shall see Him, and your heart will say, And why not one turn of love with me, oh my Saviour? Study, read, and read much the Scriptures.
But, say you, if I do read the Scriptures, and read them much, I shall then meet with some promise, possibly many, and now I cannot apply them, discouraged as I am; I shall see the promises indeed, and say, There is such and such an old friend of mine, but it is now mine enemy; the promise will not own me, and I cannot apply it, and so it will do me no good.
You cannot tell what the promise will do till you come to apply it. The promise never yields its power and strength till it is applied; it works when it is put to work, and not before. When Moses saw his rod turned into a serpent, he was afraid of it, and fled from it, but when he put forth his hand and took it by the tail, it was a rod in his hand again, as it was before. It may be you look upon such and such a promise at a distance, and you say, Oh, there is my enemy; now it will not help me, it will sting me, it will undo me; but put forth your hand again to it, and it will become a promise, a rod in your hand, as comfortable as ever it was before.
And if the promise does not come to you, go you to it. Sometimes the promise comes to us, sometimes we go to it. When the promise comes to you, you have joy; when you go to it, you have peace, and this peace may last longer than the joy. But remember this as an everlasting rule, that your very relying upon the promise makes it yours.
But, again you say, if I read the Scriptures much in this condition of my discouragement, I shall not only meet with the promise, but with a threatening, and that will discourage me more.
Not so, for if a threatening makes a way to the promise, and therefore comes forth to meet you, that it may lead you to the promise, have you any hurt thereby? Now as the law was a schoolmaster to bring to Christ, so sometimes the threatening is a schoolmaster to bring you to the promise. Yea, and God therefore sometimes sends the threatening that it may lead you to the promise. You know how God appeared to Elijah, first in a wind that shook the mountains and rocks, but God was not there; then in an earthquake, but God was not there; then in a fire, but God was not there; then in a still voice, and there was God. So when God appears to a soul, sometimes He first sends a threatening, and shakes the rocks and mountains and hard hearts, and His converting grace may not be there; but there is a still voice behind, the voice of the promise; God is there, and all this shaking of the threatening is but to make way for the still voice of the promise that is behind.
Oh, you reply, but if I should read the Scriptures much in this condition, I should meet with many other things which do not concern me; there are many histories in the Scripture which do not suit with my condition, and so I should get no good or comfort.
Say not so; Christ cures, per modum divertentiae: by way of divertency (i.e. by turning the thoughts elsewhere), as you do those that are grieved. If a friend has lost a husband, or wife, or child, you do not speak of the lost person and say, Oh, what a sweet friend, or husband, or wife, or child you have lost! But you speak of something else. Afterwards you are able to speak of the person lost, but first you divert his mind from the matter of his grief, and so you do cure his grief. Thus does Christ also when he cures a poor, wounded, grieved soul. He does not always speak to the subject matter of grief in hand, but leads the heart sometimes into the consideration of other truths, and then afterwards He speaks unto the matter that is causing grief. He cures by way of divertency.
Study therefore, oh, study the Scriptures much, for thus the Lord will pour wine and oil into your bleeding wounds, and in due time you will say, as David did, “In the multitude of my thoughts, O Lord, thy comforts have comforted my soul,” Psalm 94:19.
But, you may say, suppose the Lord restores to me the joy of my salvation, that the bones which I have broken may rejoice; suppose there be a return of peace and joy, what shall I do then?
I shall not need to tell you what then; you will tell me what then, for you will say, Oh, now I must be thankful, now I must believe, now I will never doubt of mercy and of grace again. Only take these few words of advice.
Be sure that you understand your comforts rightly. Be not mistaken in them. Labour to distil and refine your comforts. As there was a mixed company came out of Egypt, which set the Israelites a murmuring, so there is a mixed company that comes with your comforts. Every creature is born into the world with some filth. When you have comfort, labour to find out and separate the dross and filth; put away that mixed company. Rose leaves keep not long in the leaf: distilled comforts keep the longest.
If you would be rid of Satan from coming into your quarters, fall you upon his. The way to keep the enemy out of our country, is to fall upon his. So deal with Satan; do him all the mischief you can; stand not merely on the defensive; up and be doing against him.
If you would keep your comforts, put them all into the hand of Christ to be kept for you. A child that knows not how to keep his money, if he get a penny from any friend, he brings it to his father or mother, and says, Mother, pray keep this penny for me. You have experience that you cannot keep your own comforts; you will lose and spend them quickly. As Jesus Christ is the Lord Treasurer of all our graces, so he is the Lord Keeper of all our comforts; and therefore, then God is pleased to give any comfort to you, go to Jesus Christ, and say, Lord, keep my comforts for me, keep my evidences for me, keep my assurance for me: you must not only depend upon Christ for graces, but for comforts; and as well for the keeping as for the getting of them.
As you have any spiritual comfort from Christ, spend all for Christ: for though, in temporal things, the way to have little is to spend much; yet in spiritual things, the more you spend, the more you have. And therefore, whatsoever comfort you have, spend it with the saints. Do as Moses did: when Moses was in Pharaoh's court, and in great preferment, standing in the presence of the king, he went out to visit his brethren, and to comfort them under their burdens: “I will see (said he) how it fares with my brethren under their burdens.” So do you also. Has the Lord spoken peace and comfort to your soul, and do you now stand in the presence of the King of kings, having His face shining on you, with your comforts all restored unto you? Now then, go out unto your brethren, and inquire who they are that labour under any burden, and with the same comfort wherewith you have been comforted yourselves, comfort others, knowing this for certain, that the more you spend, the more you shall have, and the longer you shall keep your comforts. Yea, and this Christ expects, that what comforts we have from Him, we should spend for Him.
2. A random selection (of a verse of Scripture).
3. To use to advantage.
4. To use to advantage.
Taken from A Lifting up for the Downcast
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