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our profession by spiritual decays, as God, the good husbandman, looks for a latter spring in us, even in old age, in the vigorous acting of grace and fruitful obedience; so without it we can neither have peace nor joy in our own souls. If a man, therefore, hath made a great appearance of religion in his former or younger days, and when he is growing into age becomes dead, cold, worldly, selfish; if he have no fresh springs of spiritual life in him, it is an evidence that he hath a barren heart, that was never really fruitful to God. I know that many stand in need of being excited by such warning, unto a diligent consideration of their state and condition.
It is true, that the latter spring doth not bring forth the same fruit with the former. There is no more required in it, but that the ground evidence itself to be in good heart, and to put forth that which is proper unto the season. It may be such graces as were active and vigorous in men at their first conversion unto God, as were carried in a stream of warm, natural affections, may not so eminently abound in the latter spring of old age; but those which are proper for the season, as namely, spirituality, heavenly-mindedness, weanedness from the world, readiness for the cross, and death, are necessary, even in old age, to evidence that we have a living principle of grace, and to shew thereby that God is upright; he is our rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
What is farther to be insisted on, shall be reduced unto these four heads:
1. That the constitution of spiritual life, is such as is meet to thrive, grow, and increase unto the end, and will do so, unless it be from the default of them in whom it is.
2. That notwithstanding this nature and constitution of spiritual life, yet believers are subject unto many decays, partly gradual, and partly by surprisals in temptation, whereby the growth of it is obstructed unto the dishonour of the gospel, and the loss of their own peace with joy.
3. I shall shew that such at present is the condition of many professors, namely, that they are visibly fallen under spiritual decays, and do not evidence any interest in the blessed promise insisted on.
4. On the confirmation of these things, our inquiry will
be, how such persons may be delivered from such decays, and by what means they may obtain the grace here promised, of spiritual flourishing in old age, both in the strengthening of the inward principle of life, and abounding in fruits of obedience, which are to the praise of God by Jesus Christ; and then we shall make application unto this case, of that truth which is the subject of the preceding discourse.
1. The constitution of spiritual life is such, as is meet to grow and increase unto the end. Hereby it doth distinguish itself from that faith which is temporary; for there is a temporary faith which will both flourish for a season, and bring forth some fruit, but it is not in its nature and constitution to abide, to grow, and increase, but rather to decay and wither. It is described by our Lord Jesus Christ, Matt. xiii. 20, 21. Either some great temptation extinguisheth it, or it decays insensibly, until the mind wherein it was do manifest itself to be utterly barren. And, therefore, whoever is sensible of any spiritual decays, he is called unto a severe trial and examination of himself, as unto the nature of the principle of his profession and obedience; for such decays do rather argue a principle of temporary faith only, unto which they are proper and natural, than that whose nature it is to thrive and grow to the end, whereon those that have it, shall, as it is in the promise, still bring forth fruit, and without their own great guilt be always freed from such decays.
That this spiritual life is in its nature and constitution such as will abide, thrive, and grow to the end, is three ways testified unto in the Scripture.
1. In that it is compared unto things of the most infallible increase and progress; for besides that its growth is frequently likened unto that of plants and trees well watered, and in a fruitful soil, which fail not to spring, unless it be from some external violence; it is likewise compared unto such things as whose progress is absolutely infallible; Prov. iv. 18. The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.' The path of the just is his covenant-walk before God, as it is frequently called in the Scripture; Psal. cxix. 35. 105. Isa. xxvi. 7. Psal. xxiii. 3. Mat. iii. 3. Heb. xii. 13. and it compriseth the principle, profession, and fruits of it. This, saith the wise
man, is as the shining light; that is, the morning light; and wherein is it so? Why, as that goeth on by degrees, and shineth more and more unto the high noon (though it may be interrupted sometimes by clouds and storms); so is this path of the just, it goes on and increaseth unto the high noon, the perfect day of glory. It is in its nature so to do, though it may sometimes meet with obstructions, as we shall see afterward; and so doth the morning light also.
There is no visible difference as unto light, between the light of the morning, and the light of the evening; yea, this latter sometimes, from gleams of the setting sun, seems to be more glorious than the other. But herein they differ: the first goes on gradually unto more light, until it comes to perfection; the other gradually gives place unto darkness, until it comes to be midnight. So is it as unto the light of the just and of the hypocrite, and so is it as unto their paths. At first setting out they may seem alike and equal; yea, convictions and spiritual gifts acted with corrupt ends in some hypocrites, may for a time give a greater lustre of profession than the grace of others sincerely converted unto God may attain unto. But herein they discover their different natures; the one increaseth and goeth on constantly, though it may be sometimes but faintly; the other decays, grows dim, gives place to darkness and crooked walking.
This then is the nature of the path of the just; and where it is otherwise with us in our walk before God, we can have no evidence that we are in that path, or that we have a living, growing principle of spiritual life in us. And it is fit that professors of all sorts should be minded of these things; for we may see not a few of them under visible decays, without any sincere endeavours after a recovery, who yet please themselves that the root of the matter is in them. It is so, if love of the world, conformity unto it, negligence in holy duties, and coldness in spiritual love be an evidence of such decays. But let none deceive their own souls; wherever there is a saving principle of grace, it will be thriving and growing unto the end. And if it fall under obstructions, and thereby into decays for a season, it will give no rest or quietness unto the soul wherein it is, but will labour continually for a recovery. Peace in a spiritually decaying condition, is a soul ruining security; better be under terror
on the account of surprisal into some sin, than be in peace under evident decays of spiritual life.
And by the way, this comparing of the path of the just unto the morning light, minds me of what I have seen more than once. That light hath sometimes cheerfully appeared unto the world, when, after a little season, by reason of clouds, tempests, and storms, it hath given place again to darkness, like that of the night; but it hath not so been lost and buried like the evening light. After a while it hath recovered itself unto a greater lustre than before, manifesting that it increased in itself whilst it was eclipsed as to us. So hath it been with not a few at their first conversion unto God, great darkness and trouble have by the efficacy of temptation, and injections of Satan, possessed their minds; but the grace which they have received being as the morning light, hath after a while disentangled itself, and given evidence, that it was so far from being extinguished, as that it grew and thrived under all those clouds and darkness; for the light of the just doth in the issue always increase by temptations, as that of the hypocrite is constantly impaired by them.
Again, as it is as the morning light, than which nothing hath a more assured progress; so it is called by our Saviour 'living water,' John iv. 10. yea, a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life;' ver. 14. It is an indeficient spring, not a pool or pond, though never so large, which may be dried up. Many such pools of light, gifts, and profession, have we seen utterly dried up, when they have come into age, or been ensnared by the temptations of the world. And we may see others every day under dangerous decays; their countenances are changed, and they have lost that oil which makes the face of a believer to shine, namely, the oil of love, meekness, self-denial, and spirituality of converse; and instead thereof there is spread upon them the fulsome ointment of pride, self-love, earthly-mindedness, which increaseth on them more and more. But where this principle of spiritual life is, it is as the morning light, as an indeficient spring that never fails, nor can do so, until it issue in eternal life; and sundry other ways there are whereby the same truth is asserted in the Scripture.
2. There are sundry divine promises given unto believers, that so it shall be, or to secure them of such supplies of
of grace as shall cause their spiritual life to grow, increase, and flourish unto the end, such as that in the psalm which we have considered; for these promises are the means whereby this spiritual life is originally communicated unto us, and whereby it is preserved in us; by them are we made partakers of this divine nature; 2 Pet. i. 4. and through them is it continued in us. Now promises of this nature, namely, that by the dispensation of the Spirit of Christ, and supplies of his grace, our spiritual life shall flourish, and be made fruitful to the end, I shall briefly call over one of them only at present, which is recorded, Isa. xliv. 3, 4. I will pour water on him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.'
Although this promise may have respect unto the gracious dealing of God with the people of the Jews, after their return from the captivity, yet hath it so only as it was typical of the redemption of the church by Jesus Christ; but it belongs properly to the times of the gospel, when the righteous were to flourish, and it is a promise of the new covenant, as is manifest, in that it is not only given unto believers, but is also extended unto their seed and offspring, which is an assured signature of new covenant promises. And here is, 1. A supposition of what we are in ourselves, both before and after our conversion unto God, namely, as thirsty, dry, and barren ground. We have nothing in ourselves, no radical moisture to make us flourishing and fruitful. And as it is before, so it is after conversion; 'We are not sufficient of ourselves; our sufficiency is of God;' 2 Cor. iii. 5. Being left to ourselves, we should utterly wither and perish. But, 2. Here is the blessed relief which God in this case hath provided; he will pour the sanctifying water of his Spirit, and the blessing of his grace upon us. And this he will so do, as to cause us to spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. There is nothing of a more eminent and almost visible growth, than willows by the water courses. Such shall be the spiritual growth of believers under the influences of these promises; that is, they shall be fat and flourishing, and still bring forth fruit. And other promises of the same nature there are many; but we must observe two