Some Helps and Encouragements to those that are discouraged, because of the fruitlesness of their Resolutions to Repent, or the hainousness of their Sinnes.
EZEK. 33. 11.
WE have endeavored to make plain those Mountains, that are in the way to our Conversion, and turning to God: Now it remaineth, that we exalt some Valleys, and remove those discouragements that are on mens spirits, while in the general, they seem to desire and purpose to turn unto God. I acknowledge, these valleys are not so many as the mountains; discourage∣ments and dejections not so frequent, as presumptious; more are fondly per∣swaded of the easiness to turn to God, then the difficulty: which is clearly evi∣denced, by the secure and negligent disposition of most, that though they hear never so much about this duty of turning to God, yet never consider or apply, never make any matter, whether they are turned unto God or not. I will not be too long in enumeration of the usual dejections in this kinde; I shall in∣stance in one or two, which will in effect serve for the rest: And
First, There are some who say, They have many purposes and desires to turn to God, they have frequently resolved to forsake their sins, but then these quickly perish*again, and so they think it is in vain to try any more: They do but as the man, that is rolling a great stone upon the hill, which presently returneth with the greater force: They are as a man striving and rowing hard against the stream, but im∣mediately is forced as much backward, as ever he got forward: And I cannot but think, that this is a sad objection upon many mens hearts, who have their times of relenting, of much sorrow and trouble, and then take up high resolutions, They will never live, or be as they have been; in the minde they are in, all the temptations in the world shall never prevail over them any more. Now to help such out of their disconsolateness; Consider
First, That it may be these purposes they have, are not hearty, real, and fully con∣quering the heart: They are but a kinde of wishes and desires, such as Balaams,*Oh, that I might dye the death of the Righteous: They are but faint wishing and woulding, as we say, and this will never do any good: They are such desires as the Sluggard is said to have, which yet doth scarce draw his hand out of his bosom to help himself: Its not as the phrase is, To cleave to the Lord with full purpose of heart; as Paul said in another case, I could wish to be made an Anathema, so thou couldest wish to be separated from thy lusts, thou couldst desire to be a new convert; but these are such languishing motions, that they are like those living Page 438 Creatures, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, that live but for a day; there comes up a worm, that quick∣ly consumes these gourds. The desires of a man in his conversion, are compared to Hunger and Thirst, to Panting and Breathing, all which are the most vio∣lent and impatient motions of a man: Can a man be hungry, ready to be starved, and sit still crying, O that I had food? no, it will break through stone walls. You see what the hungry Lepers did, 2 Kings 7. 8. desperately ventured even into their enemies quarters, that they might be satisfied: And thus, if thy purposes and resolutions were full and strong, no lust, no temptation could be so strong as to hold thee any longer; but now they are half desires, and faint wishes, and God hath made no promise to such, that they shall be satisfied. Austin speaks of himself before his conversion, how he had many desires and resolutions to leave his sins, which made him pray to God, that God would give him grace to part with them, yet at that very time he was afraid (he saith) that God should hear his prayers; he was afraid God should do that for him, he desired: And thus it may be with thee, thou hast many affections and desires to forsake thy sins, frequent relentings, yet if it should come to it indeed, that thou must be taken from them, it would be a trouble to thee; all which argueth, thou art not real, fully bent against them.
Secondly, As these purposes are but weak and faint, so it may be they are slavish in thee, extorted onely from outward considerations of danger and punishment, in fear*of death, and of publique judgements: Now if so, its no wonder if these thorns do not bear grapes: This is often in the Scripture exemplified, Ahab, Pharaoh, the Israelites; while the strok of Gods judgements was upon them, then they would turn to God: Thus the Israelites turned and turned very often, but they turned from God again, as often as they turned unto him: Now the ground of this mis∣carriage was, because these purposes were violently wrung from them, they dared not to do otherwise; and so when the cause was removed, the effect pre∣sently ceased. Look then, what it is that is the rise of thy resolutions; thou re∣solvest and resolvest sometimes, even with sad and bitter tears, but thou art after wards where thou wert before; Is not this that which marreth all? These reso∣lutions never are, but when thou art in some fears, in some terrors, and these violent things therefore will never hold long: They will hold as long as the principle of their violence holdeth; but when that ceaseth, all thy purposes fall to the ground again. Never then wonder to see the Israelites commit those idolatryes, and that injustice, which sometimes they cryed out off, and confessed to God; for all this was squeezed from them, not willingly done by them: O then! if thou wouldst at last see a sweet harmony, between thy resolution and conversation, begin to mend thy purposes; let them not be resolves out of fear, but out of love: O Lord (say) not onely in time of danger, but in the midst of all mercies and comforts, my soul breathes after thee: Its not fear of hell and death makes me take up these conclusions, but love to thee, and what is holy: Thou mayest be sure, this will hold, thou wilt be the same, if this move thee first. Thou wilt be no longer, as the man that purgeth his ship, which leaketh, and water comes in at one place, as fast as it is emptied at another; but thou hast laid a good and sure foundation to build upon.
Thirdly, Thy purposes vanish away without execution, because it may be they art onely sudden and flashy, they continue but for a season: They come like suddain light∣ning, * that makes an astonishment for the present, but immediately is gone: Thus Balaams desires were upon a sudden apprehension of Gods glorious providence to his Church. Agrippa was almost perswaded to be a Christian, for that time while Paul was preaching; so that those purposes, which are not constant not rooted, will dye as soon as they begin to live. As our Saviour speaks of a tem∣porary saith which doth immediately spring up, and immediately wither; so * these resolutions, they do presently rise up, while we are preaching, and while you are hearing, but then as soon as the duty is over, thy purposes are over: Page 439 Therefore as David prayed for the people, that offered so willingly, God keep this always in their hearts, 1 Chron. 29. 18. so shouldst thou, O Lord, not at this time onely, but always make my spirit thus resolute, thus fixed against iniquity; let not these holy motions of thy good spirit dye within me. Its not the having of godly resolutions to turn unto God, but the powerful retaining of them, and making use of them in time of need, that doth avail and help us: Why then art thou so disquieted within thee? the cause is plain, thou mayest see clearly what is to be done: Let not those resolutions of thine, be as pilgrims and strangers, that lodge but for a night; let them rather be as the fire upon the Altar, that never went out. As it is said of the wicked man, that he cannot sleep, till he hath accomplished his mischieef; so do thou take no rest, till the godly purposes of thy soul be fulfilled.
Fourthly, Thou complainest, that thou art driven from thy resolutions to * turn unto God: Then resolve more in the grace and power of God, not in thy own humane strength and confidence: This makes men fall again as often as they rise, they think to stand by their own power. Certainly, if in ordinary common things, we may not peremptorily resolve to do such and such things, but to expect his aid and providence, if God will; much more in spiritual duties: say then to all thy sins, which have so frequently conquered thee, as David to Goliah, I come unto thee in the name of the Lord, whom thou hast defied; I set upon the mortifying of these sins, not by my own strength, but in the power of Christ, whose glory and honor my sins would take away. When Paul spake of that ex∣cellent temperament of grace, He knew how to abound, and how to want; he con∣cludeth, I can do all things through him that strengtheneth me, Phil. 4. 13. over∣come nature, remove mountains, make the dead to live; thus it will be with thee, if thou adhearest to God. Alas, what can an hand do, if separated from the body? what the branch, if divided from the vine? no more can thy pur∣poses or resolutions, unless partaking of Christs influence: If therefore thou wouldst not have yea and nay, as the Apostle excuseth himself in another case, but thou wouldst be setled in thy conversion to God, go out of thy own strength, lean no more to thy own power, but cry out, Oh thy weakness, Oh thy impo∣tency, Oh the guile and falshood of thy heart; there is no more trusting of it, no more believing in it; and therefore Lord, let thy right hand uphold me. Do as the little childe, that hath attempted to go alone, but finding it cannot, holds the father by his hand, and then he is not afraid to go. Do as Peter; when ready to sink in the waters, then he cryeth out then Christ holds his hand out to sustain him.
Fifthly, If thou finde thy self thus prone to break thy promises and resolutions,*this should not so much dishearten, as make thee the more wary and diligent: Diffi∣culties do not dishearten, but inflame a resolved spirit, even as stirring doth the fire. If oppositions and temptations should take away all hope and confidence? then every man might sit down with fear in the way to heaven, and say truly with the sluggard, A Lyon is in the way, yea, many Lyons; but God hath made the way to heaven narrow and straight, that so we may the more strive to en∣ter therein; and the violent must take heaven by force, even as the Israelites did the Land of Canaan: So then, though thy turning to God, put thee in many agonies, many fears, sometimes in hope, sometimes again in despair; yet let not this make thee cast away the Anchor of Hope, and say as they did, It is in vain to pray, to resolve, to seek any longer: That expression of the Apostle, calling Hope an Anchor, Heb. 6. 9. is excellent to this purpose. Would it not be a wilde mad thing in a Marriner, when the waves arise, and strong gusts beat his ship back, if he should in that conflict throw away his Anchor? no less is thy folly, while thou art thus unconstantly tossed up and down, sometimes in high resolutions towards Heaven, sometimes as low as hell; thou castest away thy hope, which onely would support thee; Oh rather say, These difficulties Page 440 arguue a duty of the greater watchfulness; there is more reason for me to watch and pray, to fear and pray.
Sixthly, Let that encourage thee, while climbing up this high hill, That God hath made gracious promises, even to the least sparks, the least beginnings of any good in a*man: How comfortable is that? The bruised reed he will not break, the smoaking flax he will not quench, Mat. 12. 20. as God said about his Temple, None should de∣spise the day of small things; so it is here, Let not small things be despised: What is less then a grain of Mustard-seed, and yet how quickly doth that overgrow other herbs! so that there is no doubt on Christs part, but that he is ready to draw thee, and to give legs to thee; the onely question is, Whether thou doest seek him with thy whole heart? let that be, and the Ministers of God may in∣sure thee, that he will make little sparks flame into a great fire: There is an excel∣lent promise in Isaiah, The faint and weary shall renew their strength like an Eagle, Isa. 40. 30, 31, 32. Oh then, sit down and meditate on these gracious promises that are made, even to the Hungry, to the Thirsty, to such who seek, though they have not found; never doubt on Gods help, onely be sure thou art sincere and hearty in thy purposes, to turn unto him. Certainly, God that heareth the yong Ravens, and gives them food, will hear those yong and infant crys and resoluti∣ons of thine to better things.
Seventhly, This may also greatly incourage thee, though thou hast many foils, That grace is far more potent then sin: Though thy sins be pleasant, be made na∣tural * to thee, though they grow up like weeds, of their own accord; and grace is a stranger, and a plant in an unnatural soil, while in thy heart, yet it is far stronger then thy strongest corruptions; so that thy diseases are not such incura∣ble ones, but that grace is a medicine and plaister potent enough to help thee; there is balm in Gilead: For as Christ is stronger then the Devil, therefore he judgeth him, and casteth him out of the strong holds he had; so grace is more effectual then sin: Fear not then to grapple with thy lusts, say not they are above me, they are to strong for me; for the seed of God, whereby a man is born of God, is stronger then this. Hence faith is said to overcome the world, 1 John 5. 4. and as for outward helps, Greater is he that is with us, then those that are against us; so for inward help also, if thy sin be great, let the power of grace be also apprehended greater: The house of David will grow greater, and the house of Saul lesser; make therefore thy arguments from without thy self, not within; say, O Lord, thy grace can cure me, thy grace can deliver me out of this miry clay.
Eightly, Doest thou complain thy resolutions take no effect, thou art still where thou wert? consider, if it be not, because though thou purposest aganst * sin, yet thou doest not abstain from the occasions of it; and if so, no marvel if it be labor in vain: Never think to turn to God from thy sins, if thou doest not turn from the occasion of them: Alas, if thon hast not strength to avoid the oc∣casion of sin; which is less? how canst thou sin it self, which is the greater: He that resolveth not to be burnt in the fire, will never come too near the flames; he that will not be inticed by the adulterous woman, must not come near her dwelling. Job that resolved against uncleanness, made a covenant with his eyes. Paul that feared to be a cast-away, kept down his body; thou mayest then easily see what undoeth thee: No marvel if the Bird that endeavoreth to fly up to hea∣ven, fall down again, when a string is on her foot: Thus thou hast sometimes heavenly resolutions, heavenly meditations, but there is a string on the foot, or rather a milstone about the neck; and that is, the occasion or temptation to some sin, from which thou canst not part: Separate thy self therefore first from the occasions of sin, then the sin will be more easily subdued; as the husband∣man first cuts away the under bushes and brambles, before he layeth his ax to the root of the tree: This is so great a matter, that our Saviour teacheth us to pray, Not to be lead into temptation; he doth not say, lead into sin, but tempta∣tion; Page 441 for that is opening the gate, that is the first tumbling down the hill, and it is hard to stop afterwards.
Lastly, to quicken thee in thy resolutions to turn unto God, though thou * often get falls; Consider what the strong appetites and purposes of men in natural and worldly things put them upon. Those that will be rich, saith the Apostle, pierce themselves through with divers cares, 1 Tim. 6. 9. Their earnest desire after these things, puts them upon all labor and toil day and night; every difficulty is easily devoured, per mare, per terras, &c. they compass sea and land, and all to possess themselves of these fading riches. Take the ambitious man, that hath a boundless and vast desire after honor and greatness, he doth not onely resolve and resolve, but is very industrious to compleat his designs: Take the malicious man, how unquiet in his sleep, how restless in his thoughts, till he hath vented his poyson! Now shall men in sinful and unlawful ways, not onely imagine wickedly; but constantly and effectually practise it? and shalt not thou be as active in the ways of godliness? Never then let this temptation binde thee hand and foot; and certainly if thy conversion to God could never be attained, if thy turning to him were impossible, yet its better and more safe to dye in com∣bates and conflicts with these lusts, then out of diffidence to give up thy self a prisoner to them: Its more noble to go lame to the grave, with thy struglings against thy dear corruptions, then to become a voluntary slave to them.
The next valley to be exalted, is the greatness of a mans sins (for other objecti∣ons * will come in more seasonably elsewhere) and of this onely very briefly: Thou art perswaded to turn to God, thou couldst readily set upon the work, but thy sins have such a gastly look, and are of such a bloody nature, that thou doubtest, God will never accept thee: But this is a vain fear; For
First, The Israelites in the Text, were sinners in as high a degree as ordinarily*could be: If you regard the nature and quality of their sins, if the means a∣gainst which they rebelled, the obstinacy and refractariness in them; all these things made them bloody and crimson sins; yet to these how pathetically and compassionately doth God speak, Turn ye, turn ye! and it is universal; he doth not say, Turn ye onely, that are sinners of such a degree, but as for the rest, they are incureable; but he speaks generally: So Jer. 3 7. I said unto her, after she had down all these things, Turn ye unto me; and in that Chapter many times, though they were an adulteress and a backsliding people, yet he inviteth her to return: Therefore let not that cast thee down.
Secondly, Fear not acceptation because thou hast been a great sinner, for thy*Acceptation and Justification is not founded upon thy turning unto God: Thou art not pardoned and received into favor, because thou art turned from thy evil ways: No, its Christ blood, not thy tears which maketh the atonement; its true, without this turning to God, there is no favor to be had from him, but its not because of this: So that thy Conversion and thy Justification are two distinct things, they are several priviledges, and though never separated, yet are always to be distinguished.
Thirdly, Therefore turn unto God, even because thy sins are great; for the * greater they are, the more dangerous it is to continue long in them. As a man sick of desperate and dangerous diseases, he hath a great cause to seek out for help: None have so great cause to turn, as those that are so far gone out of the way; and thou needest more grace then others.
Use of Admonition, to you who are not yet given up to a reprobate heart, * and senseless spirit, that have many secret desires, yea, and serious purposes to turn from all your evil ways: Oh take heed how you quench these coals; be afraid of every thing that may suffocate and stifle these beginings; take heed, God may never give you these good thoughts any more, the Angel may never come down to stir the pool again. Oh! what a sad thing is it to suffer ship∣wrack near the very haven; to be damned, when thou hast even been entering Page 440〈1 page duplicate〉Page 441〈1 page duplicate〉Page 442 into heaven! Oh that you were not almost, but altogether perswaded to turn from your evil waies; it may be God may inspire this holy purpose at this time in thy heart: Oh go home and cherish it, pray over it, mourn over it; say, O Lord, keep this alwaies in me: As thou hast planted it, so water it, and give it sure en∣crease.