« PreviousContinue »
guilt of their sloth. It reflects upon the words of our Saviour, that his 'yoke is easy, and his burden light;' that his 'commandments are not grievous.' It expresseth unbelief in the promises of God, tendering such supplies of grace as to render all the ways of wisdom easy, yea, mercy and peace. It is contrary unto the experience of all who have with any sincerity and diligence engaged in the ways of gospel obedience. And the whole cause of the pretended difficulty lies in themselves alone; which may be reduced unto these two heads :
1. A desire to retain some thing or things, that is, or are, inconsistent with such a progress. For unless the heart be ready on all occasions to esteem every thing as loss and dung, so as we may win Christ, the work will be accompanied with insuperable difficulties. This is the first principle of religion, of gospel obedience, that all things are to be despised for Christ. But this difficulty ariseth not from the thing itself, but from our indisposition unto it, and unfitness for it. That which is an easy pleasant walk unto a sound and healthy man, is a toilsome journey to him that is diseased and infirm. In particular, whilst men will retain an inordinate respect unto the world, the vanities, the pleasures, the profits, the contentments, of it; whilst self-love, putting an undue valuation on our persons, our relations, our enjoyments, our reputations, doth cleave unto us, we shall labour in the fire when we engage in this duty; or rather we shall not at all sincerely engage in it; wherefore the apostle tells us, that in this case we must cast off 'every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us,” if we intend 'to run with joy the race that is set before us ;' Heb. xii. 1.
2. It is because men dwell continually upon the entrances. of religion in the first and lowest exercise of grace: some are always beginning at religion, and the beginning of things are always difficult. They design not to be complete in the whole will of God, nor to give all graces their perfect work. They do not with use habituate grace unto a readiness in all the actings of it, which the apostle commends in them that are perfect or complete; Heb. v. 14. Hence he calls such persons babes, and carnal, comparatively unto them that are strong men and spiritual. Such persons do not oblige themselves unto the whole work, and
all the duties of religion, but only what they judge necessary unto them in their present circumstances. In particular, they do not attempt a thorough work in the mortification of any sin, but are hewing and hacking at it, as their convictions are urgent or abate, the wounds whereof in the body of sin are quickly healed. They give not any grace its perfect work, but are always making essays, and so give over.
Whilst it is thus with any, they shall always be deluded with the apprehensions of insuperable difficulties, as to the growth of their affections in spirituality and heavenliness. Remove these things out of the way as they ought to be removed, and we shall find all the paths wherein we are to walk towards God to be pleasantness and peace. This is the first cause whence it is, that there may
be affections truly spiritual and graciously renewed in some persons, who yet do not thrive in an assimilation and conformity unto heavenly things. Men take up with their
present measures, and thereon pretend either necessary occasion, or discouragements from difficulties in attempting spiritual growth in the inward man. But they may thank themselves, if as they bring no honour unto Christ, so they have no solid
in their own souls. 2. As the evil proceedeth from folly, so it is always the consequent of sin, of many sins, of various sorts. Let us not dwell on heartless complaints, that we do not find our affections lively and heavenly; that we do not find the inward man to thrive or grow. Let us not hearken after this or that relief or comfort under this consideration, as many things are usually insisted on unto that purpose. They may be of use, when persons are under temptations, and not able to make a right judgment of themselves. But in the course of our ordinary walking with God, they are not to be attended, nor retired unto. The general reason of this evil state, is our own sinful carelessness, negligence, and sloth, with perhaps an indulgence unto some known lust or corruption. And we do in' vain seek after refreshing cordials, 'as though we were only spiritually faint, when we stand in need of lancings and burnings, as nigh unto a lethargy. It would be too long to give instances of these sins, which fail not effectually to obstruct the thriving of spiritual affections. But in general, when men are careless as unto that continual watch which they ought to keep over their hearts; whilst they are negligent in holy duties, either as unto the seasons of them, or the manner of their performance; when they are strangers unto holy meditation and self-examination; whilst they inordinately pursue the things of the world, or are so tender and delicate, as that they will not undergo the hardship of a heavenly life,' either as unto the inward or outward man; much more when they are vain in their conversation, corrupt in their communication, especially if under the predominant influence of any particular lust; it is vain to think of thriving in spiritual affections. And yet thus it is with all who ordinarily, and in their constant course, are thriftless herein.
Decays in spiritual affections, with the causes and danger of them. Advice
unto them who are sensible of the evil of spiritual decays,
It must be acknowledged, that there is yet that which is worse than what we haye yet insisted on, and more opposite unto the growth of affections in conformity unto heavenly things, which is the proper character of those that are spiritually renewed. And this is their spiritual decay manifesting itself in sensible and visible effects.
Some there are, yea many, who upon the beginning of a profession of their conversion unto God, have made a great appearance of vigorous, active, spiritual affections ; yea, it is so with most, it may be, all who are really so converted. God takes notice of the love of the youth in his people, of the love of their espousals.
In some, this vigour of spiritual affections is from the real power of grace, exerting its efficacy on their hearts and in their minds. In others, it is from other causes, as for instance, relief from conviction by spiritual illumination will produce this effect. And this falls out unto their advantage of such persons that generally a change is wrought in their younger days; for then their affections in their natural powers are active, and bear great sway in the whole soul.
Wherefore the change that is made is most eminent in them, be it what it will. But as men increase in age,
and thereon grow up in carnal wisdom, and a great valuation of earthly things, with their care about them and converse in them, they abate and decay in their spiritual affections every day. They will abide in their profession, but have lost their first love.
It is a shame and folly unutterable, that it should be so with any
who make profession of that religion, wherein there are so many incomparable excellencies to endear and engage them to it more and more: but why should we hide what experience makes manifest in the sight of the sun, and what multitudes proclaim concerning themselves ? Wherefore I look upon it as a great evidence, if not absolutely of the sincerity of grace, yet of the life and growth of it, when men, as they grow up in age, do grow in an undervaluation of present things, in contempt of the world, in duties of charity and bounty, and decay not in any of them. But, I say, it is usual that the entrances of men's profession of religion and conversation unto God, are attended with vigorous, active affections toward spiritual things. Of them who really and sincerely believed, it is said that on their believing, 'they rejoiced with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.' And of those who only had a work of conviction on them, improved by temporary faith, that they received the word with joy, and did many things gladly.'
In this state do many abide and thrive, until their affections be wholly transformed into the image and likeness of things above. But with many of all sorts it is not so; they fall into woful decays as unto their affections about spiritual things, and consequently in their whole profession and conversation, their moisture becomes as the drought in summer. They have no experience of the life and actings of them in themselves, nor any comfort or refreshment from them; they honour not the gospel with any fruits of love, zeal, or delight, nor are useful any way unto others by their example. Some of them have had seeming recoveries, and are yet again taken into a lifeless frame : warnings, afflictions, sicknesses, the word, have awakened them, but they are fallen again into a dead sleep; so as that they seem to be trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.
Some things must be spoken unto this woful condition in general, as that which is directly opposite unto the grace and duty of being spiritually minded; and contrary unto, and obstructive of, the growth of spiritual affections in an assimilation unto heavenly things. And what shall be spoken may be applied unto all the degrees of these decays, though all of them are not alike dangerous or perilous.
1. There may be a time of temptation, wherein a soul may apprehend in itself not only a decay in, but an utter loss of, all spiritual affections, when yet it is not so. As believers may apprehend and judge that the Lord hath forsaken and forgotten them when he hath not done so, Isa. xlix. 14, 15. So they may under their temptations apprehend, that they have forsaken God, when they have not done so: and a man in the night may apprehend he hath lost his way, and be in great distress, when he is in his proper road. For temptation brings darkness and amazement, and leads into mistakes and a false judgment in all things. They find not, it may be, grace working in love, joy, and delight as formerly, nor that activity of heart and mind in holy duties which spiritual affections gave unto them. But yet, it may be, the same grace works in godly sorrow, by mourning, humiliation, and self-abasement, no less effectually, nor less acceptably unto God. Such as these I separate from the present consideration.
2. There may be a decay in affections themselves as 'unto their actings towards any objects whatever ; at least as unto the outward symptoms and effects of them, and on this ground, their operations toward spiritual things may be less sensible. · So men in their younger days may be more ready to express their sorrow by tears, and their joy by sensible exaltation and motion of their spirits, than in riper years. And this may be so, when there is no decay of grace in the affections as renewed. But
1. When it is so, it is a burden unto them in whom it is. They cannot but mourn and have a godly jealousy over themselves, least the decays they find should not be in the outward, but the inward, not in the natural, but the spiritual man. And they will labour that in all duties, and at all times, it
may be with them, as in days of old, although they cannot