The sweetest seasons on this side heaven are, when the soul sinks into nothing before the face of God, and is absorbed in the sight of Christ and the love of the Spirit: when we feel the presence of Deity, and silently wait on him, at the feet of the cross, with weeping eyes, affections, and bleeding hearts.
What coming and what returning sinner need despair of acceptance? No man can be worse than St. Paul was before his conversion; and no man can be worse than St. Peter was after his conversion.
Where Scripture is to any silent concerning the lawfulness or unlawfulness of any action, consult the book of your own conscience, and follow its dictates. Observe also, what does or does not, tend to take off from your mind that exquisite sense of divine love which a believer would ever wish to cultivate and cherish.
A Believer’s affections are, too often, like a cascade, or waterfall, that flows downward; instead of being like a fountain, which rises and shoots upwards toward heaven.
If you thoroughly exhaust a vessel of the air it contains, the pressure of the air on the outside will break that vessel into (perhaps) millions of pieces; because there is not a sufficiency of air to resist and counteract the weight of the atmosphere from without. A person who is exercised by severe affliction, and who does not experience the divine comforts and supports in his soul, resembles the exhausted receiver above describes; and it is no wonder if he yields, and is broken to shivers, under the weight of God’s providential hand. But affliction to one who is sustained by the inward presence of the Holy Ghost, resembles the aerial pressure on the outer surface of an unexhausted vessel. There is that within which supports it, and which preserves it from being destroyed by the incumbent pressure from without.
Some persons are apt to walk in their sleep. They are said to be effectually cured of this dangerous habit by only once horse whipping them soundly until they awake. God’s people are apt to dose, and run themselves into danger; on which Providence takes the horsewhip of affliction, and brings them to themselves. Was he to spare the rod, his children would be spoiled.
The world is a sea of glass, affliction scatters our path with sand and ashes and gravel, in order to keep our feet from sliding.
In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust, and softens the soul, and keeps us from carrying our heads too high.
The earth must be ploughed, and sown, and harrowed, and weeded, and endure many frosty nights and scorching days. In order to its being made and preserved fruitful. Gentle showers, soft days, and moderate sun-shine will not suffice always. So it is with the soul of a faithful Christian.
A person was lately observing of some fine ornamental china on his chimney-piece, that the “elegance of its figures, and the perpetuity of its colours were owing to its having been consolidated by passing through the fire.” Is not the same remark applicable to the afflicted people of God?
SERMON III. –
“IS THERE NO BALM IN GILEAD!
IS THERE NO PHYSICIAN THERE! WHY THEN IS NOT THE HEALTH OF THE DAUGHTER OF MY PEOPLE RECOVERED!” Jer. VIII. 22. The words being before explained, and the doctrine raised, I proceed to Doct. III. Viz. However desperate the diseases of those within the church may seem to be, yet if they die of them, it will be owing to themselves, seeing they have an able physician, an excellent balm to look to for healing.
This being the doctrine which I chiefly intend to insist upon, I propose to do it at some length in the following method: I. I will inquire into those dangerous diseases for which there is balm in Gilead, and a physician there. II. Take notice of some of those dangerous symptoms which make our diseases appear desperate and incurable, for which there is yet balm in Gilead. III. Speak of the physician there, who hath the balm, and applies it for curing the diseased. IV. Inquire into the nature of the balm, and means which the physician makes use of the healing. V. Touch at the physician’s method of applying the balm, and performing the cure. VI. Make application of the whole. I The first head is, to inquire into the dangerous diseases of those within the church for which the balm is provided. And for the better understanding hereof, I shall premise some things. 1. When I speak of the church, I mean the church visible, which includes hypocrites as well as true believers. 2.Though the strength and power of the soul’s diseases be broken in believers, by renewing grace, yet there is no disease in the unrenewed but believers are in part liable to it, and have the relics of it to groan under, while they are here below. 3. I am not to speak of the diseases of the body natural, which is the province of physicians; nor of the body politic, or civil society, which is the business of politicians and statesmen: though in the meantime the abounding of those at this day is so visible to all, that we have ground to bewail and mourn over them before the Lord. Ah! The diseases of our body, both civil and ecclesiastic, are so great and lamentable, that we may justly apply that word to ourselves, which we have in Isa. i. 5, 6, “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint; from the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds, bruises, and putrifying sores.” Such a case, indeed, is mournful, yet, blessed be God, it is not separate. There is balm in Gilead for the state as well as the church, and we should plead with the great physician in Israel to pity both, and heal their respective diseases. Thanks be to God that he is both able and willing, and that he gives us such promises to plead with him, as these following, in Isa. i. 25, 26, “And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin. And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning; afterwards thou shalt be called the city of righteousness,” &c. And that in Isa. xlix. 22, 23, “Thus saith the Lord God, Behold I will lift up my hand to the Gentiles and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms and thy daughters shall be carried on their shoulders; and kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens thy nursing-mothers,” &c. And that promise in Isa. lx. 17, 18, “I shall make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness; violence shall no more be hears in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls salvation and thy gates praise.” Now it is surely the duty of all the members of both church and state, to plead these promises with God, and to wait his time for accomplishing them to us. O what is there so hard, but the outpouring of his Spirit can do? 4. The diseases which I propose to speak of in this place, are the sins of spiritual plagues and distempers of men’s souls. Which are very dangerous and deadly. These we ought all to know, with symptoms and effects, that we may seek after the balm in Gilead, which is mercifully provided of God for our healing. God would have every man to know the plague of his own heart, 1 Kings viii. 38. This every man should know and be acquainted with in the first place, in order to healing; though yet we are not wholly to confine our thoughts and care about those diseases which are private and personal, but show our concern also about those which are public and national; of which more afterwards. 5. These soul distempers are called in scripture, diseases, wounds, and sickness, Ps. xxxviii. 5; ciii. ; cxlvii. 3; Ezek. xxxvi. 4; Matt. ix. 12. Because they produce effects in the soul like to those which diseases produce in the body; such as, (1.) As diseases waste the beauty of the body, and produce uncomeliness and deformity in it, Ps. xxxix. 11. As they make the eyes sink and turn dull, the skin shrink up and gather blackness, the flesh melt away, and bones stick out, and the most beautiful person to look pale and ghastly; so our sins and spiritual distempers destroy the comeliness of the soul, deprive it of its primitive beauty, the image of God, and bring upon it a most ghastly deformity, and make it resemble both brutes and devils, the one in sensuality and lust, the other in pride and malice. (2.) As diseases weaken the body, and make it unfit for spiritual work and exercises, as prayer, hearing, meditating, &c. so that duty becomes a burden to it. (3.) As the diseases deprive men of their appetite for food, and of their digestion; so sin takes away the soul’s appetite and digestion, that it hath no hunger for the bread of life, for communion with God, and the influences of his Spirit; and though the man attends ordinances, he doth not digest what he hears, nor is nourished by it. (4.) Diseases occasion pain in the body that it cannot rest; so sin brings anguish and torture into the soul. Hence David complains of his bones being vexed, and his soul being sore vexed, Ps. vi. 2, 3. These things being promised, I shall mention some of those dangerous diseases of the soul for which we need the balm of Gilead. Atheism. Infidelity, or misbelief of divine truths, revealed to us, is a deadly disease, for it hinders the success of the gospel, and the saving of souls. What is it that keeps many halting so long between two opinions, and hovering betwixt Christ and the devil, but heir not believing firmly the Bible to be God’s word, and the gospel tidings to be certain truth; namely, that God sent Jesus Christ, his eternal Son, into the world, to assume our nature, and die for sin instead; and their not giving firm credit to the being of a God, the immortality of the soul, and the life to come. Though many will not openly question any of these truths, yet the wavering thoughts they have about them hinder them from failing in with the gospel-method of salvation which God hath established. Ah! This is a deadly disease! Also, there is much practical atheism among us; many profess to won God, and yet live as if they believed there was no God that made the world, and no providence that governs it: they pay God no homage nor respect; they put the creature, or self, in God’s room; they ascribe their mercies to fortune, or to their own wisdom or industry, rather than to God. A woful disease! God’s children indeed are cured of prevailing atheism, yet the dregs of the disease remain; and sometimes atheistical thoughts come to a great height in them, as in Asaph, though afterwards he was heartily grieved and ashamed for entertaining them, and calls himself both a fool and a beast for it, Ps. lxxiii. 21, 22. And no wonder he did so, for atheism and infidelity, though it abound in the church, yet there is no such disease in hell, no such madness there, for the devils believe and tremble, James ii. 19. But though the disease be grievous, yet Christ hath balm for it, and to him we must go both to help our unbelief and increase our faith.