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The way and means of the recovery of spiritual decays, and of obtaining fresh springs of grace.
THE application of the same truth, in the second place, belongs unto believers, especially such as have made any long profession of walking in the ways of God. and the gospel. And that which I design herein, is to manifest, that a steady spiritual view of the glory of Christ by faith, will give them a gracious revival from inward decays, and fresh springs of grace, even in their latter days. A truth this is, as we shall see confirmed by Scripture, with the joyful experience of multitudes of believers, and is of great importance unto all that are so.
There are two things, which those who after a long profession of the gospel are entering into the confines of eternity, do long for and desire. The one is, that all their breaches may be repaired, their decays recovered, their backslidings healed: for unto these things they have been less or more obnoxious in the course of their walking before God. The other is, that they may have fresh springs of spiritual life, and vigorous actings of all divine graces, in spiritual-mindedness, holiness, and fruitfulness, unto the praise of God, the honour of the gospel, and the increase of their own peace and joy. These things they value more than all the world, and all that is in it; about these things are their thoughts and contrivances exercised night and day. Those with whom it is otherwise, whatever they pretend, are in the dark unto themselves, and their own condition; for it is in the nature of this grace to grow and increase unto the end. As rivers, the nearer they come unto the ocean whither they tend, the more they increase their waters, and speed their streams; so will grace flow more freely and fully in its near approaches to the ocean of glory. That is not saving which doth not so.
An experience hereof, I mean of the thriving of grace towards the end of our course, is that alone which can support us under the troubles and temptations of life, which we
have to conflict withal. So the apostle tells us, that this is our great relief in all our distresses and afflictions, whereon we faint not, that as our outer man doth perish, so the inner man is renewed day by day ;' 2 Cor. iv. 16. If it be so, that in the daily decays of the outward man, in all the approaches of its dissolution, we have inward spiritual revivals and renovation, we shall not faint in what we undergo. And without such continual renovations, we shall faint in our distresses, whatever other things we may have, or whatever we pretend unto the contrary.
And ordinarily it is so in the holy, wise providence of God, that afflictions and troubles increase with age. It is so in an especial manner with ministers of the gospel; they have many of them a share in the lot of Peter, which our Lord Jesus Christ declared unto him, John xxi. 18. When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.' Besides those natural distempers and infirmities which accompany the decays of life, troubles of life, and in their affairs do usually grow upon them, when they look for nothing less, but were ready to say with Job, We shall die in our nest,' Job xxix. 18. So was it with Jacob, after all his hard labour and travail to provide for his family, such things fell out in it in his old age, as had almost broken his heart: and ofttimes both persecutions and public dangers do befall them at the same season. Whilst the outward man is thus perishing, we need great supportment that we faint not. And this is only to be had in an experience of daily spiritual renovations in the inner man.
The excellency of this mercy the psalmist expresseth in a heavenly manner, Psal. xcii. 12-15. The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: he shall grow like the cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; to shew that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.'
The promise in the twelfth verse respects the times of the Messiah, or of the New Testament, for so it is prophe
sied of him; 'In his days the righteous shall flourish,' Psal. Ixxii. 7. namely, through the abundance of grace that should be administered from his fulness; as John i. 16. Col. i. 19. And herein consists the glory of the gospel, and not in outward prosperity, or external ornaments of divine worship. The flourishing of the righteous, I say, in grace and holiness, is the glory of the office of Christ, and of the gospel. Where this is not, there is no glory in the profession of our religion. The glory of kings is in the wealth and peace of their subjects and the glory of Christ is in the grace and holiness of his subjects.
This flourishing is compared to the palm-tree, and the growth of the cedar. The palm-tree is of the greatest ver dure, beauty, and fruitfulness, and the cedar of the greatest and longest growth of any trees. So are the righteous compared to the palm-tree, for the beauty of profession, and fruitfulness in obedience; and unto the cedar for a continual, constant growth and increase in grace. Thus it is with all that are righteous, unless it be from their own sinful neglect, as it is with many in this day. They are hereon rather like the shrubs and heaths in the wilderness, which see not when good cometh, than like the palm-tree or the cedars of Lebanon. And hereby do men what lies in them, obscure the glory of Christ and his kingdom, as well as disquiet their own souls.
The words that follow, ver. 13. They that be planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God,' are not distinctive of some from other, as though some only of the flourishing righteous were so planted; but they are descriptive of them all, with an addition of the way and means whereby they are caused so to grow and flourish. And this is their implantation in the house of the Lord; that is, in the church, which is the seat of all the means of spiritual life, both as unto growth and flourishing, which God is pleased to grant unto believers. To be planted in the house of the Lord, is to be fixed and rooted in the grace communicated by the ordinances of divine worship. Unless we are planted in the house of the Lord, we cannot flourish in his courts. See Psal. i. 3. Unless we are partakers of the grace administered in the ordinances, we cannot flourish in a fruitful profession. The outward participation of them
is common unto hypocrites, that bear some leaves, but neither grow like the cedar, nor bear fruit like the palm-tree. So the apostle prays for believers, that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith, that they may be rooted and grounded in love;' Eph. iii. 17. Rooted, built up, and established;' Col. ii. 7. The want hereof is the cause that we have so many fruitless professors; they have entered the courts of God by profession, but were never planted in his house by faith and love. Let us not deceive ourselves herein; we may be entered into the church, and made partakers of the outward privileges of it, and not be so planted in it as to flourish in grace and fruitfulness.
That which on this occasion I principally intend, is the grace and privilege expressed ver. 14. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.' There be three things which constitute a spiritual state, or belong to the life of God. 1. That believers be fat, that is, by the heavenly juice, sap, or fatness of the true olive, of Christ himself; as Rom. xi. 17. This is the principle of spiritual life and grace derived from him. When this abounds in them, so as to give them strength and vigour in the exercise of grace, to keep them from decays and withering, they are said to be fat, which in the Scripture phrase is strong and healthy. 2. That they flourish in the greenness (as the word is) and verdure of profession; for vigorous grace will produce a flourishing profession. 3. That they still bring forth fruit in all duties of holy obedience: all these are promised unto them even in old age.
Even trees, when they grow old (the palm and the cedar), are apt to lose their juice and verdure: and men in old age are subject unto all sorts of decays both outward and inward. It is a rare thing to see a man in old age naturally vigorous, healthy, and strong; and would it were not more rare to see any spiritually so at the same season: but this is here promised unto believers as an especial grace and privilege, beyond what can be represented in the growth or fruit-bearing of plants and trees.
The grace intended is, that when believers are under all sorts of bodily and natural decays, and it may be have been overtaken with spiritual decays also, there is provision made in the covenant to render them fat, flourishing, and fruit
ful, vigorous in the power of internal grace, and flourishing in the expression of it in all duties of obedience, which is that which we now inquire after.
Blessed be God for this good word of his grace, that he hath given us such encouragement against all the decays and temptations of old age which we have to conflict withal.
And the psalmist in the next words declares the greatness of this privilege. To shew that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, there is no unrighteousness in him.' Consider the oppositions that lie against the flourishing of believers in old age, the difficulties of it, the temptations that must be conquered, the actings of the mind above its natural abilities which are decayed, the weariness that is apt to befall us in a long spiritual conflict, the cries of the flesh to be spared, and we shall see it to be an evidence of the faithfulness, power, and righteousness of God in covenant; nothing else could produce this mighty effect. So the prophet treating of the same promise, Hos. xiv. 4-8. closeth his discourse with that blessed remark, ver. 9. Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them.' Spiritual wisdom will make us to see that the faithfulness and power of God are exerted in this work of preserving believers flourishing and fruitful unto the end.
Having laid the foundation of this illustrious testimony, I shall farther declare and confirm my intention, so to make way for the application of the truth under consideration unto this case, manifesting, that the way whereby we may be made partakers of this grace, is by a steady view of the glory of Christ, as proposed unto us in the gospel.
There is a latter spring in the year, a spring in autumn; it is, indeed, for the most part but faint and weak, yet is it such as the husbandman cannot spare. And it is an evident sign of barren ground, when it doth not put forth afresh. towards the end of the year. God, the good husbandman, looks for the same from us, especially if we had a summer's drought in spiritual decays; as the psalmist complains, Psal. xxxii. 4. Had we not had a latter spring the last year, the land had greatly suffered under the drought of the summer. And if we have had such a drought in the course of