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many foolish inventions and imaginations, by which they thought to express their love and conformity unto him. They would have images of him, which they would embrace, adore, and bedew with their tears. They would have crucifixes, as they called them, which they would carry about them, and wear next unto their hearts, as if they resolved to lodge Christ always in their bosoms. They would go in pilgrimage to the place where he died and rose again, through a thousand dangers; and purchase a feigned chip of a tree whereon he suffered, at the price of all they had in the world. They would endeavour, by long thoughtfulness, fastings, and watchings, to cast their souls into raptures and ecstasies, wherein they fancied themselves in his presence. They came at last to make themselves like him, in getting impressions of wounds, on their sides, their hands and feet. Unto all these things and sundry others of a like nature and tendency, did superstition abuse, and corrupt the minds of men, from a pretence of a principle of truth; for there is no more certain gospel truth than this, that believers ought continually to contemplate on Christ, by the actings of faith in their thoughts and affections; and that thereby they are changed and transformed into his image;' 2 Cor. iii. 18. And we are not to forego our duty, because other men have been mistaken in theirs.; nor part with practical fundamental principles of religion, because they have been abused by superstition. But we may see herein, how dangerous it is to depart in any thing from the conduct of Scripture light and rule, when for want thereof the best and most noble endeavours of the minds of men, even to love Christ and to be likę unto him, do issue in provocations of the highest nature.
Pray, therefore, that you may be kept unto the truth in all things, by a diligent attendance unto the only rule thereof, and conscientious subjection of soul unto the authority of God in it. For we ought not to suffer our affections to be entangled with the paint or artificial beauty of any way or means of giving our love unto Christ, which are not warranted by the word of truth. Yet I must say, that I had rather be among them who, in the actings of their love and affections unto Christ, do fall into some irregularities and excesses in the manner of expressing it (provided their worship of him be neither superstitious nor idolatrous), than among those who, professing themselves to be Christians, do almost disavow their having any thoughts of or affection unto the person of Christ: but there is no need that we should foolishly run into either of these extremes. God hath in the Scripture sufficiently provided against then both. He hath both shewed us the necessity of our diligent acting of faith and love on the person of Christ; and hath limited out the way and means whereby we may so do; and let our designs be what they will, where in any thing we depart from his prescriptions, we are not under the conduct of his Spirit, and so are sure to lose all that we do.
Wherefore two things are required that we may thus think of Christ and meditate on him according to the mind and will of God. 1. That the means of bringing him to mind, be what God hath promised and appointed. 2. That the continued proposal of him, as the object of our thoughts and meditations, be of the same kind. For both these ends, the superstitious minds of men invented the ways of images and crucifixes, with their appurtenances before mentioned. And this rendered all their devotion an abomination. That which tends unto these ends among believers, is the promise of the Spirit ; and the institutions of the word. Would you then think of Christ as you ought; take these two directions. (1.) Pray that the Holy Spirit may abide with you continually, to mind you of him, which he will do in all in whom he doth abide ; for it belongs unto his office. (2.) For more fixed thoughts and meditations ; take some express place of Scripture, wherein he is set forth and proposed either in his person, office, or grace unto you; Gal. iii. I.
4. This duty lies at the foundation of all that blessed communion and intercourse that is between Jesus Christ and the souls of believers. This I confess is despised by some, and the very notion of it esteemed ridiculous. But they do therein no less than renounce Christianity, and turn the Lord Christ into an idol, that neither knoweth, seeth, nor heareth.
But I speak unto them who are not utter strangers unto the life of faith, who know not what religion is, unless they have real spiritual intercourse and communion with the Lord Christ thereby. Consider this, therefore, as it is in particular exemplified in the book of Canticles. There is not one instance of it to be found, which doth not supe pose a continued thoughtfulness of him. And in answer unto them, as they are actings of faith and love wherein he is delighted, doth he by his Spirit insinuate into our minds and hearts, a gracious sense of his own love, kindness, and relation unto us. The great variety wherein these things are mutually carried on between him and the church, the singular endearments which ensué thereon, and blessed estate in rest and complacency, do make up the substance of that holy discourse. No thoughts then of Christ, proceeding from faith, accompanied with love and delight, shall be lost: they that sow this seed, shall return with their sheaves; Christ will meet them with gracious intimations of his acceptance of them, delight in them, and return a sense of his own love unto them. He never will be, he never was, behind with any poor soul in returns of love. Those gracious and blessed promises which he hath made of coming unto them that believe in him, of making his abode with them, and of supping with them, all expressions of a gracious presence and intimate communion, do all depend on this duty. Wherefore, we may consider three things concerning these thoughts of Christ. 1. That they are exceeding acceptable unto him, as the best pledges of our cordial affection. Cant. ii. 14. .
my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely. When a soul through manifold discouragements and despondencies withdraws, and as it were hides itself from him, he calleth to see a poor weeping, blubbered face, and to hear a broken voice, that scarce goes beyond sighs and groans. 2. These thoughts are the only means, whereby we comply with the gracious intimations of his love mentioned before. By them do we hear his knocking, know his voice, and open the door of our hearts to give him entrance, that he may abide and sup with us. Sometimes indeed the soul is surprised into acts of gracious communion with Christ, Cant vi. 11. But they are not to be expected unless we abide in those ways and means which prepare and make our souls meet for the reception and entertainment of him. Wherefore, 3. Our want of experience in the power of this holy intercourse and communion with Christ, ariseth principally from our defect in this duty. I have known'one who after a long profession of faith and holiness, fell into great darkness and distress, merely on this account, that he did not experience in himself, the sweetness, life, and power of the testimonies given concerning the real communications of the love of Christ unto, and the intimation of his presence with, believers. He knew well enough the doctrine of it, but did not feel the power of it; at least he understood there was more in it, than he had experience of. God carried him by faith through that darkness; but taught him withal, that no sense of these things was to be let into the soul, but by constant thoughtfulness and contemplations on Christ. How many blessed visits do we lose, by not being exercised unto this duty. See Cant. v. 1-3. Sometimes we are busy, sometimes careless and negligent, sometimes slothful, sometimes under the power of temptations, so that we neither inquire after, nor are ready to receive, them. This is not the way to have our joys abound.
Again, I speak now with especial respect unto him in heaven. The glory of his presence as God and man eternally united, the discharge of his mediatory office, as he is at the right hand of God, the glory of his present acting for the church, as he is the minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle which God hath fixed and not man, the love, power, and efficacy of his intercession, whereby he takes care for the accomplishment of the salvation of the church, the approach of his glorious coming unto judgment, are to be the objects of our daily thoughts and meditations,
Let us not mistake ourselves. To be spiritually minded is not to have the notions and knowledge of spiritual things in our minds; it is not to be constant, no not to abound, in the performance of duties, both which may be where there is no grace in the heart at all. It is to have our minds really exercised with delight about heavenly things, the things that are above, especially Christ himself as at the right hand of God.
Again, so think of eternal things as continually to lay them in the balance against all the sufferings of this life. This use of it I have spoken unto somewhat before; and it is necessary it should be pressed upon all occasions. It is very probable that we shall yet suffer more than we have done. Those who have gone before us, have done so; it is foretold in the Scripture, that if we will live godly in Christ Jesus, we must do so;' we stand in need of it, and the world is prepared to bring it on us. And as we must suffer, so it is necessary unto the glory of God, and our own salvation that we suffer in a due manner. Mere sufferings will neither commend us unto God, nor any way advantage our own souls. When we suffer according to the will of God, it is an eminent grace, gift, and privilege, Psal. i. 29. But many things are required hereunto. It is not enough that men suppose themselves to suffer for conscience sake, though if 'we do not so, all our sufferings are in vain. Nor is it enough that we suffer for this or that way of profession in religion, which we esteem to be true and according to the mind of God, in opposition unto what is not so. The glory of sufferings on these accounts solely, hath been much sullied in the days wherein we live. It is evident that persons out of a natural courage, accompanied with deep radicate persuasions, and having their minds influenced with some sinister ends, may undergo things hard and difficult, in giving testimony unto what is not according to the mind of God. Examples we have had hereof in all ages, and in that wherein we live in an especial manner. See 1 Pet. iv. 14-16. We have had enough to take off all paint and appearance of honour from them who in their sufferings are deceived in what they profess. But men may from the same principles suffer for what is indeed according to the mind of God, yea may give their bodies to be burned therein, and yet not to his glory nor their own eternal advantage. Wherefore we are duly to consider all things that are requisite to make our sufferings acceptable unto God and honourable unto the gospel.
I have observed in many a frame of spirit with respect unto sufferings, that I never saw good event of when it was tried to the uttermost. Boldness, confidence, a pretended contempt of hardships, and scorning other men whom they suppose defective in these things, are the garments or livery they wear on this occasion. Such principles may carry men out in a bad cause, they will never do so in a good. Evangelical truth will not be honourably witnessed unto, but by evangelical graces. Distrust of ourselves, a due apprehen