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on any person or thing under the sun; if we desire anything but God, and what tends to God; if we seek happiness in any creature ; the jealous God will surely contend with us, for he can admit of no rival. And if we will not hear his warning voice, and return unto him with our whole soul, if we continue to grieve him with our idols, and running after other gods, we shall soon be cold, barren, and dry; and the god of, this world will blind and darken our hearts.
9. But this he frequently does, even when we do not give way to any positive sin. It is enough, it gives him sufficient advantage, if we do not “stir up the gift of God which is in us ;” if we do not agonize continually “to enter in at the strait gate ;” if we do not earnestly “strive for the mastery,” and “ take the kingdom of heaven by violence.” There needs no more than not to fight, and we are sure to be conquered. Let us only be careless or "faint in our mind," let us be easy and indolent, and our natural darkness will soon return, and overspread our soul. It is enough, therefore, if we give way to spiritual sloth; this will effectually darken the soul : It will as surely destroy the light of God, if not so swiftly, as murder or adultery.
10. But it is well to be observed, that the cause of our darkness (whatsoever it be, whether omission or commission, whether inward or outward sin) is not always nigh at hand. Sometimes the sin which occasioned the present distress may lie at a considerable distance. It might be committed days, or weeks, or months before. And that God now withdraws his light and peace on account of what was done so long ago is not (as one might at first imagine) an instance of his severity, but rather a proof of his longsuffering and tender mercy. He waited all this time, if haply we would see, acknowledge, and correct what was amiss; and, in default of this, he at length shows his displeasure, if thus, at last, he may bring us to repentance.
(II.) 1. Another general cause of this darkness, is ignorance; which is likewise of various kinds. If men know not the Scriptures, if they imagine there are passages either in the Old or New Testament which assert, that all believers, without exception, must sometimes be in darkness; this ignorance will naturally bring upon them the darkness which they expect. And how common a case has this been among us ! How few are there that do not expect it! And no wonder, seeing they are taught to expect it; seeing their guides lead them into this
way. Not only the Mystic writers of the Romish Church, but mary
of the most spiritual and experimental in our own, (very few of the last century excepted,) lay it down with all assurance, as a plain, unquestionable scripture doctrine, and cite many texts to prove
it. 2. Ignorance also of the work of God in the soul frequently occasions this darkness. Men imagine (because so they have been taught, particularly by writers of the Romish communion, whose plausible assertions too many Protestants have received without due examination) that they are not always to walk in luminous faith ; that this is only a lower dispensation ; that as they rise higher, they are to leave those sensible comforts, and to live by naked faith ; (naked indeed, if it be stripped both of love, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost !) that a state of light and joy is good, but a state of darkness and dryness is better; that it is by these alone we can be purified from pride, love of the world, and inordinate self-love ; and that, therefore, we ought neither to expect nor desire to walk in the light always. Hence it is, (though other reasons may concur,) that the main body of pious men in the Romish Church generally walk in a dark uncomfortable way, and if ever they receive soon lose the light of God.
(III.) 1. A Third general cause of this darkness is temptation. When the candle of the Lord first shines on our head, temptation frequently flees away, and totally disappears. All is calm within ; perhaps without too, while God makes our enemies “ with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, with the rulers of the darkness of this world, with wicked spirits in high places." Now, when so various assaults are made at once, and perhaps with the utmost violence, it is not strange if it should occasion, not only heaviness, but even darkness, in a weak believer ;-more especially, if he was not watching; if these assaults are made in an hour when he looked not for them ; if he expected nothing less, but had fondly told himself,—the day of evil would return no more.
It is then
very natural to suppose that we shall not see war any more. And there are instances wherein this calm has continued, not only for weeks, but for months or years. But commonly it is otherwise : In a short time “the winds blow, the rains descend, and the floods arise” anew. They who know not either the Son or the Father, and consequently hate his children, when God slackens the bridle which is in their teeth, will show that hatred in various instances. As of old, “he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now; the same cause still producing the same effect. The evil which yet remains in the heart will then also move afresh ; anger, and many other roots of bitterness, will endeavour to spring up. At the same time, Satan will not be wanting to cast in his fiery darts; and the soul will have to wrestle, not only with the world, not only
to be at peace
2. The force of those temptations which arise from within will be exceedingly heightened if we before thought too highly of ourselves, as if we had been cleansed from all sin. And how naturally do we imagine this during the warmth of our first love! How ready are we to believe that God has “fulfilled in us the ” whole “ work of faith with power !" that because we feel no sin, we have none in us; but the soul is all love! And well may a sharp attack from an enemy whom we supposed to be not only conquered but slain, throw us into much heaviness of soul; yea, sometimes, into utter darkness : Particularly when-we reason with this enemy, instead of instantly calling upon God, and casting ourselves upon Him, by simple faith, who " alone knoweth to deliver” his "out of temptation."
III. These are the usual causes of this second darkness. Inquire we, Thirdly, What is the cure of it?
1. To suppose that this is one and the same in all cases is a great and fatal mistake ; and yet extremely common, even among many who pass for experienced Christians, yea, perhaps take upon them to be teachers in Israel, to be the guides of other souls. Accordingly, they know and use but one medicine, whatever be the cause of the distemper. They begin immediately to apply the promises ; to preach the gospel, as they call it. To give comfort, is the single point at which they aim ; in order to which they say many soft and tender things, concerning the love of God to poor, helpless sinners, and the efficacy of the blood of Christ. Now this is quackery indeed, and that of the worst sort, as it tends, if not to kill men’s bodies, yet, without the peculiar mercy of God, “to destroy both their bodies and souls in hell.” It is hard to speak of these “ daubers with untempered mortar,” these promise-mongers, as they deserve. They well deserve the title, which has been ignorantly given to others: They are spiritual mountebanks. They do, in effect,
make “ the blood of the covenant an unholy thing." They vilely prostitute the promises of God, by thus applying them to all without distinction. Whereas, indeed, the cure of spiritual, as of bodily diseases, must be as various as are the causes of them. The first thing, therefore, is, to find out the cause; and this will naturally point out the cure.
2. For instance: Is it sin which occasions darkness ? What sin? Is it outward sin of any kind ? Does your conscience accuse you of committing any sin, whereby you grieve the Holy Spirit of God? Is it on this account that he is departed from you, and that joy and peace are departed with him ? And how can you expect they should return, till you put away the accursed thing? “Let the wicked forsake his way;” “ cleanse your hands, ye sinners ;” “put away the evil of your doings;” so shall your “ light break out of obscurity;" the Lord will return and “ abundantly pardon."
3. If, upon the closest search, you can find no sin of commission which causes the cloud upon your soul, inquire next, if there be not some sin of omission which separates between God and you. Do you “not suffer sin upon your brother ?” Do you reprove them that sin in your sight? Do you walk in all the ordinances of God? in public, family, private prayer? If not, if you habitually neglect any one of these known duties, how can you expect that the light of his countenance should continue to shine upon you ? Make haste to “ strengthen the things that remain ;” then your soul shall live. “ To-day, if ye will hear his voice," by his grace supply what is lacking. When you hear a voice behind you saying, “ This is the way, walk thou in it,” harden not your heart; be no more “disobedient to the heavenly calling." Till the sin, whether of omission or commission, be removed, all comfort is false and deceitful. It is only skinning the wound over, which still festers and rankles beneath. Look for no peace within, till you are at peace
with God; which cannot be without “fruits meet for repentance.”
4. But perhaps you are not conscious of even any sin of omission which impairs your peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Is there not, then, some inward sin, which, as a root of bitterness, springs up in your heart to trouble you? Is not your dryness, and barrenness of soul, occasioned by your heart's “departing from the living God?" Has not “the foot of pride come against you? Have you not thought of yourself “more highly than you
ought to think ?” Have you not, in any respect, “sacrificed to your own net, and burned incense to your own drag ?” Have you not ascribed your success in any undertaking to your own courage, or strength, or wisdom? Have you not boasted of something “you have received, as though you had not received it?” Have you not gloried in anything, “save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ?” Have you not sought after or desired the praise of men ? Have you not taken pleasure in it? If so, you see the way you are to take. If you have fallen by pride, “humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and he will exalt you in due time.” Have not you forced him to depart from you, by giving place to anger? Have not you “fretted yourself because of the ungodly,” or “ been envious against the evil-doers?" Have you not been offended at any of your brethren, looking at their (real or imagined) sin, so as to sin your„self against the great law of love, by estranging your heart from them? Then look unto the Lord, that you may renew your strength; that all this sharpness and coldness may be done away; that love, and peace, and joy may return together, and you may be invariably kind to each other, and "tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Have not you given way to any foolish desire ? to any kind or degree of inordinate affection? How then can the love of God have place in your heart, till you put away
“ Be not deceived: God is not mocked:” He will not dwell in a divided heart. As long, therefore, as you cherish Delilah in your bosom, he has no place there. It is vain to hope for a recovery of his light, till you pluck out the right eye, and cast it from you. O let there be no longer delay! Cry to Him, that he may enable you so to do! Bewail your own impotence and helplessness; and, the Lord being your helper, enter in at the strait gate; take the kingdom of heaven by violence! Cast out every idol from his sanctuary, and the glory of the Lord shall soon appear.
5. Perhaps it is this very thing, the want of striving, spiritual sloth, which keeps your soul in darkness. You dwell at ease in the land; there is no war in your coasts; and so you are quiet and unconcerned. You go on in the same even track of outward duties, and are content there to abide. And do you wonder, meantime, that your soul is dead ? O stir yourself up before the Lord! Arise, and shake yourself from the dust; wrestle
your idols ?