The Destruction of Death by the Fountain of Life;
Death abolished by Life, and Immortality brought to Light.
William Huntington (1745-1813)
Grace, Mercy, and peace, be with you through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen, and Amen.
I have long had an earnest desire in my soul to write a few scraps upon a subject, which of all others, I find the most difficult to describe.
"There are diversities of operations (saith the Apostle), but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal," I Cor. xii. 6, 7. Some of these operations are very perceptible; such as the illuminating influences of the Spirit, which bring us from darkness to light; his enlarging the heart, which brings us from bondage to liberty; strengthening us by the Spirit's might when heart and flesh both fall; his comforting operations, which makes us forget our poverty, and banishes misery from the mind: his revealing the righteousness of Christ and pronouncing the sentence of justification, which puts off our sackcloth, and girds us with gladness, silences all our accusers, and fills us with joy and peace in believing. All these, and many more, the weakest believer can easily perceive; and when under them is sensible enough of their influence, and talks sweetly about them, though he doth not always understand what he says. But the hardest to define is that of God's breathing the breath of life, or quickening, by the Spirit, the soul that is dead in trespasses and sins.
In the whole course of my ministry, which has been now upwards of thirty years, no subject has exercised my mind, or puzzled my judgment so much as this. And indeed it is but lately that I have been led distinctly to observe the different stages of it, and these but in a small degree, so as to be able to bring them out, and set them forth to others, with any satisfactory clearness.
Not long since a small pamphlet was put into my hand, published by a woman at Clapham Common; but whether it was her own performance, or transcribed from some author, I know not: the title is 'THE LIFE OF GOD IN THE SOUL OF MAN.' Never was a title and a performance so badly matched. But no persons make so free with the most mysterious and profound subjects of divinity, as those professors whom the God of this world hath blinded; and who by acting the hypocrite in Zion, have seared their conscience, and made it past feeling.
In this little work of mine now in hand, though I intend to write nothing but what I have experienced, felt, and enjoyed; yet know that I shall give great offence to many professors of our day, as I have done by almost every thing that I have written. My two discourses, which I published upon "THE IMAGE OF GOD IN MAN," made a most terrible shaking among the dry bones, which have no life in them: and, although I was under a most remarkable influence when the matter of those discourses was brought to my mind, and at the delivery of them; yet this gave such an offence, that even a minister of Needingworth, in Huntingdonshire, who knows no more of the Spirit's work than an idiot, and whose conduct has been a scandal both to his profession and his assumed office; even this poor hardened wretch took up his pen against that little performance: and that which gave the offence was, my asserting that the Spirit of God dwelt in Adam; that it was the Holy Ghost that was breathed into his nostrils; and that the Holy Spirit formed the soul of Adam, animated him, gave him life, and clothed him with the image of God. But this image, which he had by the Spirit, was by sin put off, and the old man, with his deceitful lusts, put on; in which old man there is another image, that God despises; Psalm, lxxiii. 20. Adam, feeling the sad effects of his sin, and being naked, clothed himself with a covering, but not of God's Spirit and so added sin to sin; Isaiah, xxx. 1. And all his children have copied after him ever since. Nor is there any thing more common to this day than a fig-leaved professor, or a wolf in a sheep's skin.
Not a few divines, falsely so called, have spent whole Sabbaths, almost for a year together, labouring to prove that Adam before his fall was nothing else but a natural man: but surely not in the evil and gross sense which those words now convey to us. God is a Spirit; and the image of the invisible God must be spirit, or spiritual, be it wherever it may, whether in Adam before his fall, or in any sanctified soul since; for "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." If he was a natural man, it must be in the highest sense, or what Peter calls being partakers of a divine nature; for in nothing else could the image of God consist. And it is plain that the Spirit of God spoke in him. The speech Adam delivered at his reception of Eve is by Christ applied to God: "Have ye not read that he, which made them at the beginning, made them male and female? And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife," Matt. xi x. 4, 5. Now, as these words, uttered by Adam, are by Christ applied to God; and as Adam's speech was a prophecy of what should come to pass among married people to the world's end, and is the first exhibition of the mystical union between Christ and his church; and is by the Apostle brought in as representing it, and as the grand mystery signified by it, Eph. v. 31; it is plain that this, as well as all scripture "was given by inspiration of God," 2 Tim. iii. 16. And that Adam's "prophecy came not in old time by the will of (a natural) man, but holy men of God (and holy Adam among them) spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," 2 Peter, i. 21. And it is plain that by the Spirit Adam spake mysteries, I Cor. xiv. 2. For the Apostle, in his quotation and application of Adam's speech, says, "For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife; and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church," Eph. v. 30-32. No man now living has the light, knowledge, and understanding that Adam had in the works of God's hands. He knew much of God, and of the whole creation; and he had all that by the Spirit of divine revelation. "There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding," Job, xxxii. 8. Adam's mind was not clogged with blindness and ignorance, as ours is since the fall. We know but in part, indeed, and labour, under a darkness that may be felt. Not so Adam; nor was he a stranger to the love of God, he loved God, and enjoyed God's love to him; nor was his love opposed by a carnal mind which is enmity against God, as ours is. Paul intimates that the image of God in man stands in righteousness and true holiness. And the same Apostle tells us that love is the fulfilling of the law; and if so, then the righteousness of Adam stood in love. And the same Apostle makes true holiness to stand in the same. "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love," Eph. i. 4. Adam's righteousness and true holiness stood in love. "The law is spiritual;" and spiritual righteousness he must possess that stands just before it; "but we are carnal, sold under sin," Rom. vii. 14. But who made us carnal, and sold us under sin, but Adam? He who was once spiritual, and endued with true holiness, by his fall he became carnal, and a condemned criminal, and sold all his posterity to work wickedness.
Nor am I the first person that ever asserted that the Holy Ghost was in Adam: four very learned divines have asserted the same; namely, the learned Milton, Doctor Goodwyn, Doctor Owen; and even Doctor Gill, in his Preface to the book of Genesis, allows inspiration to Adam. His words are these: Yea, the knowledge of divine things, which Adam himself had in a state of innocence, was by inspiration: what knowledge he had of God, of his mind and will, and of the worship of him, and of his own salvation, was by divine revelation. Even the moral law was inspired into his heart, and written upon it, or he would not have had such certain and distinct knowledge of it. And especially he could not have known any thing of the positive law of God, to abstain from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, without a revelation. And, if man in such a state stood in need of it, then much more man in his fallen state.'
Now, though the scriptures quoted sufficiently prove this, and such learned men have advanced the same, yet have I been represented in so odious a point of light, by the sons of darkness, as if I had opened the floodgates of all heresy; but sure I am that they have done worse than I did; for while they were proving Adam in a state of innocency to be only natural, they themselves fail to be spiritual, though they have nothing but Adam's old man of sin, and the earthly Adam's image in them.
And the glorious subject I am now going upon will be full as offensive to such men as the other was. Those, that desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, are sure to be satisfied with a name to live though they are dead, and such are alienated from the life of God, and therefore oppose it.
To an awakened sinner death is the most formidable of all enemies "yea, the king of terrors," Job, xviii. 14; especially when the universality of his reign, and the different branches of his empire, are properly considered, and duly laid to heart. "Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression," Rom. v.14, &c. Death even reigned over poor little infants, who never committed one actual transgression; and through the fear of death the greatest part of mankind are all their life-time subject to bondage. A king of terrors death is, and the terrors of this tyrant spring from various quarters.
But there is another little secret Sovereign, that reigns over this king and all his terrors, though he is but little known in the world; and that is the hidden man of the heart, the new man of grace. "That, as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord," Rom. v. 21. God's love is opposed to Satan's malice, Christ to Satan himself, grace to sin, and eternal life to endless death.
The grace of life which came by Jesus Christ, is intended to root up, and root out, death in all its branches; I say in all its branches; for even temporal death is turned into a sleep in Jesus, where the grace of God hath reigned and ruled. "Christ hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel," 2 Tim. i. 10.
But my hardest task is to discover the beginnings of this divine life, which by the Spirit is breathed into the souls of all God's elect; and that which makes it so difficult is, the many alarms, awakenings, woundings, convictions, illuminations, reformations, external gifts, spiritual abilities, miraculous assurances of faith, fiery zeal, apparent fervour, transient hope, soft passion, transporting joys, surprising strength, and a multitude of words, or the most fluent gifts of utterance. And yet it is often seen that the whole of this surprising crop, at a long run, amounts to just nothing at all. "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath," Matt. xiii. 12. Now that which makes the difference between these two servants, is life. Christ came that his sheep might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. He therefore that hath the life of grace in his soul, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance, for the grace of life abounds; but he that hath not the life of grace, but merely an external gift, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. And this God often discovers to his children, both in preachers, and professors, as clear as the sun at noon day.
Christ takes his children down into the garden of nuts, Song vi. 11. And the way to this garden is hid from the eyes of all living; it is "a path which no fowl knoweth," Job, xxviii. 7.
"Confidence in an unfaithful man, in time of trouble, is as a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint," Prov. xxv. 19. A foot out of joint can never walk in this path; nor can a broken tooth crack one nut that grows in Christ's garden.
One of these nuts is, "He that believeth shall not make haste." The coming sinner, like the blind man that Christ healed, keeps all his faith in himself; nor can he act it, nor does he go forth in the exercise of it, except when Christ visits him, or when the Lord shines upon him, or some promise comes home with power to him, or the Holy Spirit moves him by godly sorrow, humility, meekness, life, or love: his faith always moves in concert with the Spirit's operation, and with the light of the Lord's countenance. But the unquickened professor suddenly springs up: he hears the word, and anon with joy receives it; and so endures for a while, but, having not root, he withers away, Matt. xiii. 6.
2. The sinner that the Holy Spirit quickens is sure to take the lowest room in God's house; his debased mind will not be pressing, into the holy of holies, nor into the sanctuary among the priests, nor into the king's gallery with the spouse, nor into the inner court among the real worshippers; but into the outer court of the Gentiles, and even beneath the beasts that perish, putting his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope, Lam. iii. 29. I mean by this, his humble state of mind. Nor can all the world raise his heart out of this debased state till the word of the Lord comes "Friend, go up higher." But into this humility of heart, and self-loathing in the sight of God, which sets the self-condemned sinner at such a distance in his own apprehensions from the Almighty, the aspiring professor cannot descend: he aims at higher things; for, as his faith sprints up without root, so his claim upon God is presumptuous, and his approaches to him bold, daring, and arrogant: and he aims at the presence and approbation of God at his first setting off; but God drives him back, while he draws the other on. Hence it is said that "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble," James, iv. 6.
3. The soul, that is under the first teaching of God's Spirit, is so sensible of the plague and sore of his own heart, and so ashamed of his own innumerable misdeeds, that he is not desirous of vain glory, but esteems every believer better than himself, Phil. ii. 3. But the hypocrite never comes into this mind, he is a despiser of them that are good; such are heady and high-minded, and lovers of themselves, as may be seen in Paul's Epistles both to the Corinthians and the Galatians; where they abuse and traduce even the great Apostle, in order to exalt themselves. Hence the Apostle's threatening, "But I will come, and I will know not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power; for the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." 1 Cor. iv. 19. So far were these from esteeming every believer better than themselves, that they esteemed themselves better than the great Apostle.
4. The soul that is under divine teaching, is one that is "swift to hear and slow to speak;" he does not want to be a leader, but to be led; he lies down at the foot of the lamb, and a little child may lead him; for he is so swallowed up and watched over by Satan, and pursued with such misgivings of heart, that, if he even speaks without a full persuasion of its being right, or any thing that he has not seen or felt, it is all fitted up, and canvassed over by Satan, insomuch that he is often afraid to open his lips, unless faith or love constrain him. "I believed; therefore have I spoken says David. "We believe and therefore speak" says Paul. Faith in the heart leads the van, and the confession of the mouth brings up the rear. But not so the temporary believer; he is riot swift to hear and slow to speak, but swift to speak and slow to hear; for it is not by his silence that he is to be known, but by his noise. "A fool's voice is known by a multitude of words." Eccles. v. 3.
5. The chosen vessel, under the tuition of the Spirit, is brought into such self-abhorrence as no hypocrite can ever counterfeit; for the more propitious God appears to him, the more such a soul hates and loathes himself; nor is he ever more sweetened in his spirit than when in such a frame of mind: "Ye shall loath yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities when I am pacified towards you, saith the Lord God," Ezekiel. Not so the hypocrite in Zion, for our Lord opposes him to this self-abased one in the following words; "For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." Luke, xiv. 11.
6. Another nut which the coming sinner has to crack is, that the Holy Spirit of God stains the pride of all his glory; he baffles and confounds his wisdom, and makes all his knowledge foolishness; all his purposes are broken; all his plots and contrivances are marred; his strength is made perfect weakness; his mind becomes bewildered and confused, so that he appears a mere idiot; he forgets to eat his bread, and his right hand forgets its cunning. "If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise." I Cor. iii. 18.
7. God teaches us that the heavenly race is not to the swift; which no hypocrite ever believes. He is sure to strive for the mastery; though he is never crowned, because he strives not lawfully. 2 Tim. ii. 5. He has no inward war, no opposition from Satan, no weights nor chains; no doubts, fears, nor despondings; no heart-failings or misgivings; he sees no mountains of difficulty, nor valleys of the shadow of death; no crooked paths, but straight ones; no rough places, but plain; no ground to dispute with Satan; no supplications nor bitter weeping: - and such may well run. The child of God meets with all these, and thinks every hypocrite before him, and himself the last of all. But "the last shall be first, and the first last; for many be called, but few chosen." Matt. xx. 16.
8. The next thing that a chosen vessel, taught of God, relinquishes, is his supposed strength. While this last he will vow, promise, and strive; and, though he is continually foiled, and comes short, yet he renews the attack against the world, Satan, the flesh, his besetting sins, and inward lusts; he strives, in order to subdue them, make his heart clean, and work himself up into a better frame, and into holy dispositions; but all in vain; for he is just like Jonah's mariners: "They rowed hard to bring, the ship to land, but they could not, for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them," Jonah, i. 13. So it is with the poor awakened sinner; and this often makes him desist, and give all up for lost, till fresh terrors, fears, and torments, spur him to it again. This fruitless toil at length leads him to self-despair, or to despair of all help in himself, which is what God aims at; so that he is terrified at the very thoughts of vows and promises; he sees that his heart deceives him, and so does his arm: and this is what God leads him to; for "he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool," Prov. xxviii. 26; and he is cursed of God that maketh flesh his arm. "Let the weak say, I am strong," Joel, iii. 10. This is a strange riddle, a hard nut to crack; but the Spirit of God will convince the sinner that he hath not power even to think. "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think any thing, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God," 2 Cor. iii. 5. When this working arm fails us, help is at hand; "for Christ's strength is made perfect in weakness," 2 Cor. xii. 9. The hypocrite is a stranger to this lesson; his high arm and stout heart are not broken by this soul-distressing and soul-discouraging labour: his spirit is not wounded, bruised, made sore, soft, or contrite; he is inwardly sound and whole; all his religion floats in his mind, his will, and his understanding; not in a change of heart, affections, and conscience: he is vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, in will-worship, or a voluntary humility in his will, with self-pleasing joys from the stirrings of natural affections, and some light in the understanding: nothing of all which makes him weak, broken, or contrite. Hence the prophet calls such youths, and young men; because, as the wise man says, "I the glory of young men is their strength," Prov. xx. 29. And their strength is their ruin; "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." Isa. xl. 29-31.
9. The ninth hard nut, that the poor coming sinner has to crack, is the mortifying state of insolvency: but it is such, and only such, who stand in need of the surety of the better testament. God's children must be made poor in spirit. No discharge of debts but by the Gospel surety; no bread of life but what the sinner begs; no covering for his nakedness; but the gift of righteousness; no refuse nor resting-place but in the Son of God; no true riches but the ransom of a man's life, Prov. xiii. 8; no meetness for heaven but by the gift of the Spirit. Poor and needy, a pauper, a beggar, and a momentary dependant upon the bounty of heaven, he must become, who obtains the forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among, all them that are sanctified. "..a certain creditor had two debtors; the one owed him five hundred pence, and the other fifty; and when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both: tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most, Luke, vii. 41, 42. There is a peculiar emphasis laid upon the words, "and when they had nothing to pay;" which shews a deep sense of real poverty, and the wonderful bounty of heaven. Into this poor soul-degrading state the hypocrite comes not: for, like the Laodiceans, though destitute of real faith, the Holy Spirit, and his grace, and of all real righteousness, yet they are rich in themselves, "increased with goods, and have need of nothing." Rev. iii. 17.
10. And here I may bring in another hard nut, which those who are strangers to the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts are unacquainted with; and that is, wherein true greatness in the sight of God consists: - Not in aspiring at the ministry; not in knowledge or understanding; not in splendid gifts, fluent speech, or elocution; but in a continual sight and sense of the remains of inbred corruption, and this in the glass of Christ's sufferings, and in the faith of interest in his death. This gives us a sense of fellowship with him in his sufferings, and makes us conformable unto his death. "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matt. xviii. 4. The whole-hearted professor comes not into this secret. He is sure to strive for mastery; and it is self-applause and legal pride that puffs him up and spurs him forward. Hence the warning, and advice; "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation; for in many things we offend all," James, iii. 1. But these masters do nothing else but offend. These are some of the nuts which are hard to crack; but there is a real sweetness in them, when we can get them open. I shall now proceed to treat of the gradual rise and spring of eternal life in the soul.
This life, whatever it be, is the gift of God, the fruit and effect of his secret good-will of purpose in Christ, as saith the Apostle "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world begin," Titus, i. 2. To this life are all the elect of God ordained; and this is the sole cause of the gift of faith to them, or of the elect being brought to believe in Christ. "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed," and none else. This life is given us in Christ; it is put into his hands, and is secured and sure to all the seed in him; and on this account he is called our life, and the length of our days. "Blessed (says Wisdom) is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting, at the posts of my doors; for whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord," Prov. viii. 34. This life is the choicest blessing, of an everlasting covenant made between the Father and the Son, in which covenant Christ under-takes, by his sacrifice, to remove sin out of the way, which is the cause of death; and death itself also, as the dreadful effect of sin; that this gift of God might flow through him to the souls that are dead in trespasses and sins. Hence this covenant is called "the covenant of life and peace," Mal. ii. 5. And this covenant, which is now ratified, and confirmed by the death of Christ, is turned into what is called the Gospel, which is preached among us; the grand subject and glorious matter of which is, the promise of eternal life, which life and immortality are said to be brought to light by the Gospel.
In this I have often admired the goodness and condescension of my God: that, as death in all its dreadful meaning, and in its endless latitude, is so terrible an adversary to poor alarmed sinners; so God, in his abundant mercy, has scattered his gift of eternal life all over the Bible; and his superabounding grace is to terminate in the abundance of life. Hence every spiritual blessing, in the book of God is either life itself, or something that leads to it: for upon Mount Zion God hath "commanded the blessing, even life for evermore," Psalm cxxxiii. 9. When God promises to be a God to Abraham, and to his seed, and styles himself the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, it amounts to the same thing, as our Lord shews in his explication of the words, "As touching the dead, that they rise; have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saving, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living," Mark, xii.26, 27.
This blessing of life lies in the love of God, in his good-will of purpose and of promise: it is in Christ, in the Holy Spirit of promise; and indeed the gift of eternal life is in every spiritual grace implanted in the believer's heart. Hence Peter calls us heirs together of the grace of life, I Peter, iii. 7.
But that which brings this life nearest to us is the word of God, or the Gospel preached in the power of it; for eternal life is in the word; "Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me," John, v. 39. On this account Peter says that God hath "given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature," 2 Peter, i. 4. And by divine nature he means the grace of life, and nothing else. But then Christ, and Christ alone, must speak this word home to the heart, if it brings life to the sinner's soul. Men can only speak to the outward ear; "The excellency of the power is of God, and not of men," 2 Cor. iv. 7. "My word is spirit, and my word is life," says Christ, because the spirit of his mouth always attends the word of his grace, when he speaks to the heart and gives inward testimony to it. Death, and him that hath the power of death, must decamp when the Lord of life and death speaks. "I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live," Ezek. xvi. 6.
But to proceed. This blessing of external life is set forth before us by the emblem of wind; which is represented as moving, those that are dead, and compared to a skeleton of dry bones; "Son of man, can these bones live? Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, Son of Man, and say unto the wind, Thus saith the Lord God, Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live," Ezek. xxxvii. 3, 9.
It is also set forth before us by the metaphor of water flowing from the sanctuary, and overflowing all its banks; or the partition wall that separated between the Jews and Gentiles, and carrying, the blessing of eternal life into the pagan world. "Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea, which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the river shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither, for they shall be healed, and every thing shall live, whither the river cometh," Ezek. xlvii. 8, 9. These waters are nothing else but the Holy Spirit and his grace; the sea is this confused and sin-disordered world the fish are elected sinners, which the Apostles, who were made fishers of men, were sent to catch; and the blessing that attended these healing waters is eternal life; "every thing shall live whither the river cometh."
This same blessing is couched under different ordinances such as circumcision and baptism. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles; whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one spirit," I Cor. xii. 13. And this drinking into one spirit is explained by Christ himself; "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life," John, iv. 14. This is the one baptism of which water is an outward sign.
And circumcision in the flesh is no more than a sign likewise: for it is said, that Abraham "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised," Rom. iv. 11. For true circumcision is performed by God himself; as it is written, "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, that thou mayest live," Deut. xxx. 6. Hence baptism and circumcision are both one thing in the spiritual meaning, for both give life: and hence God says, "All these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart, therefore I will punish the circumcised with the uncircumcised," Jer. ix. 2,5, 26. Yea, more. The New Testament tells us that, "that is not circumcision which is outward in the flesh:" on which account all who are regenerated by the Holy Ghost, are said to be baptized into one spirit: and by the same Apostle they are called "the true circumcision which worship God in the Spirit;" which makes baptism and circumcision to be one and the same thing, in the explanation God gives of them, who is the best judge of his own meaning. And hence it is plain also, that to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire, amounts to the same thing as circumcision, for the sweetest and hottest ingredient in that fire is love; and it is well known that "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us," Rom. v. 5. His powerful operations as a comforter, sealer, and an earnest in our hearts, and God's love shed abroad therein by him, constitute this firey baptism; and life eternal is the blessed effect of it. Thus this divine blessing, if it be not in the earthquake, yet is it in the wind, in the water, and in the fire. But now I must come a little nearer home.
Our Lord tells us, that this divine life is not a pool, or standing lake, which is fresh and wholesome for a while, and then becomes stagnated, useless, and loathsome, as we see the ministry and profession of too many to be in our day: but it is something, that keeps springing up, and will spring up to all eternity. And this appears from our Lord's discourse with the woman of Samaria at Jacob's well; where our Lord seems to confirm all that I have said about this blessing of all blessing, and this glorious gift of all gifts, and in which all other gifts are included. "Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water " John, iv. 10. And, had I known as much of this mystery when I first came to London as I do now, it would have saved me many a restless hour, many a bitter sigh, many a silent groan, and many dismal expectations. For, when I saw and heard of so many wise, able, learned, and popular ministers, both in the church and in other places of worship, shining and flourishing for a time, and then seeming to wither, decline, die away, lose their audiences and come to nothing, I was fully persuaded that the same would be my lot after awhile; that my gift would get stale, my life and joys wither, a sameness would appear in all my discourses, and the people would be sick of the same tale, so often told. But there is a difference between one talent and two; between a ministerial gift, and a gift attended with the grace of life to feed that gift; and I know that he must be a scribe instructed unto the. kingdom of heaven, instructed of God, and this his instruction must lead him into the kingdom of heaven, so as to be a subject of it, if he continues useful to the end, and he must have not only the treasure of grace in his heart, but continual supplies of that grace, if he continues to bring "forth out of his treasure things new and old," Matt. xiii. 52; for he can never brings forth things new that lives upon, and trades with nothing else but the old stock.
Where the Spirit of all grace takes possession, there, and only there, will eternal life spring up, as our Lord declares - "But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life," John, iv. 14. Into a life of endless glory in the highest heavens will this water spring up; nor can the power of sin, the race of Satan, or all the world, prevent this spring from rising; but rather make its springing more strong, and its overflowings more rapid; for "by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of our spirit," Isa. xxxviii. 16. Nor does this spring in us rise alone; the believing soul rises and falls, ebbs and flows; and always moves in concert with it, as it is written, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses," Isa. xliv. 3, 4.
But some may object, and say, if this living water is thus to spring up into everlasting life, and those upon whom it is poured are to spring up with it, and under the fructifying influences of it, as among the grass, and as willows by the water courses, how comes it to pass that so many, after a splendid shew of springing up, wither, fade, shake off their unripe fruit, come to nothing, and perish? - As the wayside hearers, who heard the word, and were plundered by Satan, and those who received seed into stony places, and suddenly they sprang up, having no deepness of earth, but in time of temptation fell away; and other parts of the word fell among thorns, where the cares of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches, overtopped and choked the word, and they came to nothing. Others begin in the Spirit, and end in the flesh; others, like the foolish virgins, abide to the last in company with the wise, and then are shut out: others, like Ananias and Sapphira, though joined to the church, are both ravished by Satan, commit sacrilege, tempt the Spirit in the Apostles, lie to the Holy Ghost, and perish in their falsehood, and all for a little money. Demas forsakes Paul, having loved this present evil world: Ahithophel becomes David's counsellor, guide and companion to the house of God; but, when he becomes rich, aims at David's life, and hangs himself because he could not accomplish it. Others have got rich wives, and some into a large line of business, and accumulated wealth entirely by their profession; and, when such prizes have been obtained, their lamp has gone out in obscure darkness. All this is true, and every day makes it manifest; but no man in his senses will ever say that such professors are the elect of God. It is not without cause that we are bid to plough up the fallow ground of the heart, and not to sow among thorns, Jer. iv. 3.
This spurious crop of cares, covetousness, love of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, pride, self-confidence, self-righteousness, and ending in the flesh, &c. - I say, this spurious crop never had the axe laid at the root, much less were they grubbed up, or rooted out at first. If the Holy Spirit had done this in them, he would never have suffered lust and corruption, briars and thorns, earthly cares and deceitful riches, to choke, overtop, or root out his work: "Whatsoever God doth it shall be for ever, nothing can be added to it, nor any thing taken from it; and God doth it that men should fear before him," Eccl. iii. 14. Besides, where the grace of life is planted, and the Holy Spirit takes possession, that plantation is not deserted, but watched over with the utmost attention. "Sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine; I the Lord do keep it, I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day," Isa. xxvii. 2. There is a perpetual flowing of the water of life from the Saviour's fullness by the Spirit to every believing soul. "Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock, and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden, and they shall not sorrow any more at all," Jer. xxxi. 12. Wherever inbred corruptions, or worldly cares, the love of money or the love of this world, prevail and overcome, there the Holy Spirit never took up his abode. He goes through these briars and thorns, and burns them altogether, Isa. xxvii. 4. And, as ,soon as he sets fire to them within, you may see them wither without. This is his first effectual work in the heart, as I shall now proceed to shew.
He finds the sinner dead in sin, or in the sleep of death, and not only dead, but alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him, with the strong man armed in full possession, and his goods in peace. The word of God, which is the sword or the Spirit, is sent home to the heart and soul with terrible majesty, and with a life-giving power. Sin, wrath, and the fiery law, which lay at the door, now enter in at the breach which the Holy Spirit has made; and this fire within withers and blasts the whole infernal crop before described. "The voice said, Cry, And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it. Surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand for ever," Isa. xl. 6, 7. The Almighty calls the people grass because of their green, verdant, increasing and flourishing, condition, and because of the innumerable multitude of the inhabitants of the world. The goodliness thereof is that which men pride themselves upon, boast of, and glory in: this is called "the flower of the field," which adorns it. Some glory in their wisdom, others in their strength, some in riches, and some in their beauty, in their learning parts, and abilities; others in their self-righteousness, Holiness, the uprightness of their ways, their almsgiving, their devotion, attendance on ordinances, fastings, long prayer, &c. &c.: and some glory in their shame. But it is plain that the goodliness as well as the flesh, the flower of the field as well as the grass, wither and fade under the quickening, convincing, and convicting operations of the Holy Spirit; for "the grass withereth, and the flower fadeth," saith the Prophet.
The Spirit of God works in a sovereign way, as Christ himself says, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou bearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit," John, iii. 8. And the Prophet here tells us what is done by this blowing, - "the grass withereth and the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass."
But this work is not done without the word, as appears by the prophet's account. He tells us, first, there is a voice that cries; at this cry the spirit of the Lord bloweth; and under this blowing the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but that the word of our God, which the voice uttered, and which the Spirit applied, shall stand for ever. There are five things which attend this blowing, of the Spirit.
1. Light which discovers sin in all its malignity, and dreadful consequences, for "all things which are reproved are made manifest by the light which doth appear; for whatsoever maketh manifest is light," Eph. xv. 13.
2. A soul-piercing and soul-condemning, power, attended with cutting convictions, reproofs and rebukes by the word, which is the Spirit's sword: "The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing, asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," Heb. iv. 12. This is the sword by which the Spirit pierces and wounds the soul, and "a wounded spirit who can bear?" Prov. xviii. 14.
3. The wrath and curse of a broken law attend this work, and enter the soul by the caul of the heart, rent and laid open by the Spirit of God: at the entrance of the law actual transgressions roll in, and the whole mass of corruptions rise up; a dreadful meeting this is: "Sin revived, and I died," says Paul.
4. The Holy Spirit, at his entrance, quickens the soul, or breathes the breath of life into it; and this gives the sinner a quick feeling, and makes his sensations exceeding keen, so that the piercings and woundings, the reproofs and rebukes become intolerable. All convictions that are not attended with the quickening influences of God's Spirit are sure to die away: it is life by the Spirit that keeps them alive. Nor will any thing short of divine life wither the grass, or fade the flower of the field. The whole crop will live and thrive under all convictions, except where the Spirit quickens. The young man in the Gospel turns his back upon heaven and endless glory, rather than part with the root of all evil: and, though he went away sorrowful, or full of sorrow, knowing that the die with him was cast, yet he risks it, and holds his great possessions. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God?" No reproofs, rebukes, or convictions, by the word, will ever make the sinner relinquish his sweet morsels, or his favourite idols, unless eternal life be communicated: and this God declares. "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; and from all your idols will I cleanse you," Ezekiel, xxxvi. 25. Many sit and endure reproof till they get miserable, yet remain just as they were, if not more hardened: and "he that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy," Prov. xxix. 1; and others, being, unable to bear it, like Cain, go out from the presence of God.- "Woe unto them! For they have fled from me: Destruction unto them! Because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken against me. And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me," Hosea, vii. 13, 14. These fled from God, and kept on in their rebellion, gluttony, and drunkenness, through they howled with vexation of spirit; nor did they cry to God with their heart Satan and sin still kept possession of that, and so it will be, and must be, unless the Spirit of life from God enter into them: and this is plain from our Lord's own words, where he is treating, of this same work, of quickening dead sinners.
"For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will," John, v. 21. Many dead sinners are raised up that are never quickened. It is one thing, to alarm, awaken, illumine, and rouse a sinner, dead in sin, by calling, an army of fears, terrors, horrors, and torments, about him; and another thing to give him life. God sometimes does this alarming, work himself, and yet gives the sinner no life, as it is written, "Then said Jeremiah unto him, The Lord hath not called thy name Pashur, but Magor-missabib. For thus saith the Lord, Behold I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends," Jer. xx. 3, 4.
Natural conscience, when overloaded and bowed down, may make sad work in the awakened sinner. The restraints of Providence being taken off, and Satan suffered to go in (as in the case of Judas), makes him a hell to himself; which is giving the sinner up to a fearful looking for of judgment. Legal convictions, which are in the general dry, barren, floating upon the mind, and are always attended with a deal of pride, self-savour, fleshly pity, self-righteousness, worldly-mindedness, and hardness of heart, may go a great way in appearance: but, whatever may alarm and raise up dead sinners, this I am sure of, that, if God doth not quicken them by the Spirit of life, they will lie down again. But God not only raiseth up the dead, but breathes the breath of life into them. This withering of the grass, and fading of the flower, is attended with life; which is the reason why that man is pronounced blessed whom God chastens and teacheth him out of his law, Psal. xciv. 12. God's blessing is life for evermore; and is by no means pronounced or applied to sinners, who have nothing in them but sin and death. Now the symptoms of life, which attend these convictions, are as follows - There is a continual crying to God, as may be seen in Saul as soon as the voice of Christ reached him. "Go," says the Lord to Ananias, "and inquire for Saul of Tarsus; for behold he prayeth." And in David, when the Spirit of God blew upon him. "Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee: hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily: for my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burnt as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat in bread," Psalm cii. 1-4. But will the hypocrite "delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?" Job, xxvii. 10. No, he will not; nor will he ever cry to God with the heart, though he howl upon his bed. It is the elect, and none else, that cry day and night unto God.
2nd. Life appears by the keenness of their sensations, the tenderness and soreness of their consciences, being chafed and bruised: hence Solomon says that "a reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool," Prov. xvii. 10. And the reason is, the wise man has life and feeling, but the fool is dead. Life appears also by the brokenness and contrition of their hearts, and by their reverence, awe, fear, and trembling at the word of God: "and God says he will look to and dwell with them that are of a broken and contrite heart, and that tremble at his word," Isai. lxvi. 2. And if the living God dwells with such, they cannot be dead.
3rd. Life appears by the keenness of their appetite, and by the choiceness of the provision which they crave. The prodigal cries out for the bread of heaven. This was Christ, the bread of God. "I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread," Psalm cxxxii. 15. "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them," Isai. xli. 17, These poor souls are seeking the Holy Spirit of promise as a comforter, and his grace. Others hunger and thirst after righteousness, and shall be filled; this is the righteousness of faith. Now, if the Holy Ghost doth not guide all these, it is a wonder to me how they came to set their hearts upon such provision as this: and, if he did not incline their will, it is a mystery to me how they came to choose such fare before husks, seeing, the latter is most natural to them, and is what they have been always accustomed to. Nothing was so disgusting to the Jews as to hear of eating the flesh, and drinking the blood of Christ, in a spiritual sense, by faith. Besides, the appetite of sinners is so vitiated, that they have no relish for spiritual provision: man savours not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. And not only vitiated, but they are "alienated from this life of God through the ignorance that is in them," Eph. iv. 18; estranged from it, have no appetite for it; but in soul, hate it, and are enmity itself against it. Nor have the damned in hell any relish for it. The rich man did not beg for the water of life but for water to cool his tongue. Nor did he desire Lazarus to preach Moses and the prophets, much less Christ and faith in him. When he desired that he might be sent to his brethren, he was only to tell them of his torments, and to warn them, and testify against them. And, when Abraham objected, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them;" he objects also, "Nay, but if one went unto them from the dead they would repent." The distressed souls above differ much from Judas, Cain, Esau, Ahab, Saul, and many others, in their appetite, in the choice of their food, and in their earnest cry to God for it, where alone it can be had without money and without price; in all which they erred not.
But the grand question is, what is there in a soul, alienated from the life of God, that makes choice of and craves such spiritual provision? I answer, Nothing at all. He must be quickened by the Spirit of God that has such an appetite for spiritual food; and have in his soul a principle of life to feed, that can feed upon the bread of God. Hence Christ pronounces that man blessed that hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He does not say that he shall be blessed, but he pronounces him already blessed: and, as I before observed, God's blessing is life for evermore. There is, and must be, life in that man upon whom the Son of God pronounces his blessing; for he doth not pronounce it upon the dead and damned; nor is that blessing a temporal one which contains food and raiment, health and prosperity; but it is a spiritual blessing, and Christ says that such shall be filled with righteousness.
4th. This life discovers itself by the company that such choose. While the prodigal was dead to God he not only fed upon husks, but went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, a citizen of Jerusalem that now is, and is in bondage with all her children; a better preacher in presumptuous confidence; one in bondage to sin, and under the curse of the law as well as himself; and here he found union, for the guests of such are not at Mount Zion, but in the depths of hell, Prov. ix. 18. But as soon as God quickened him, or planted a principle of spiritual life in him, then came the famine. In vain he tried his husks; this new principle could not feed upon them, though he fain would have filled his belly with them; and then he left the citizen and tried others, but no man gave the bread of life to him. Then he sets off to God; and the next time we hear of him he is found among the servants of the Lord, one of whom is bringing out the fatted calf, others the robe, the ring, and the shoes: and it is among, these that they are sure to be found at a long run, however they may be tossed about for a time; and here they will cleave, as Ruth did to Naomi, and as many others cleaved to Barnabas and Saul. And again, it is said part held with the Jews, and part with the Apostles; for to a poor sinner, quickened by the Spirit, a man of God is a precious jewel. Not only is the branch of the Lord (namely Christ) beautiful and glorious, but the fruit of the earth is excellent and comely to those that have escaped of Israel, Isa. iv. 2. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth," Isa. Iii. 7.
They are sensible and miserable sinners that are so fond of the ambassadors of peace, and they are lost sinners in themselves that see such beauty in the feet of those that publish salvation. And sure I am that they are heartily sick of the reign of Satan, sin, and death, who are so charmed with this branch of the tidings, "Thy God reigneth." It is no mean proof of eternal life being in the soul, when the poor sinner cleaves close to the people of God; for they must be taught of God to love, who love one another; and "We know (says John) that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren," I John, iii. 14. A sinner, harassed by Satan and natural conscience, may be fed by an Arminian; and a minister of the letter can feed any one under legal convictions whom no food suit so well as the earthquake, the wind and the fire, accompanied with plenty of noise and eloquence, with hell and damnation; this feeds the legal spirit that possesses him, which is a spirit of bondage to fear. And, if an artist at empty oratory can craftily handle the pathetic parts of scripture, so as to stir up his bowels, touch the passions, and move the affections of nature, so as to make his bowels sound like a harp; this passes for conversion, and the operations of the meek and dove-like spirit of Jesus, while the whole work is carried on by Satan. The soul that is quickened by the Holy Spirit puzzles all these: they can neither explain his case, tell him where he is, what he ails, nor feed him. These appear to me to be the first glorious influences and operations of divine life by the Spirit in the souls of men; and this brings them forth from that carnally secure and insensible state that they were before in, when they had no sense nor concern either of God, or their own danger: "You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins," Eph. ii. 1.
The next discovery of this springing up of the divine life is the "day-dawn and day-star rising in the heart," 2 Pet. i. 19. The first appearance of light, as I before observed, discovered nothing but sin, and God's anger in a broken law; but the day-dawn and day-star, that rises in the heart, is the forerunner of, and leads on to, the rising of the sun of righteousness. "He that believeth in me (says Christ) shall not abide in darkness, but shall have the right of life." This is called the light of life, because it discovers not only the more sure word of prophecy, but it discovers in the word more and more of the suitableness and preciousness of the Son of God, the freeness and fullness of his salvation, and of his ability to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him. And this is an increasing light that affords matter for meditation: it entertains his mind, counteracts despondency, loosens the injurious bar of infidelity, and renders less violent the attacks of Satan. It discovers a firm ground for hope, and rescues, in some measure, the mind from its confusion, and the understanding from the dismal glooms of death's shadow. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined," Isaiah, ix. 2. Now, as the dawn of day is perceptible to us, and the morning opens more and more before it; all which are the distant rays of the sun itself, and forerunners of it, and sure signs of a brighter shining, so the day-dawn and day-star rising in the heart are distant rays of Christ's sweet face, forerunners of a brighter morning, and sure signs of his healing beams: and this the poor sinner is sensible of, for his heart often enlarges as if his Lord was coming, which adds new life to his spirit, fresh fervour to his petitions, spurs to his diligence, and gives his soul at times such evangelical impressions, that infidelity can hardly be heard; and his convictions work more pleasingly, upon a softer soil, and attended with more noble and endearing wounds, being mixed with meekness, humility, and contrition. And this is the day-dawn, the light of life. "I will give him (saith Christ) the morning star," Rev. ii.88; which leads to endless day.
It is generally the case that, when a sensible sinner is under the convictions of the Holy Spirit, labouring in legal bondage, under the weight of sin and the sting of guilt; filled with slavish fear and cutting remorse; at such times there is a sad sense of God's divine anger reflected on the sinner's heart, which sense burnishes the law and conscience with fresh matter of reproach and accusation; such an one being filled with "the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of his God," Isa. li. 20. Whatever such souls hear under the word is sure to agree with, and confirm, all that they feel within. The Spirit's work on the heart always tallies with the word of God preached to the ear; so that the poor soul who is wounded in his spirit is sure to have "a dreadful sound in his ears," Job, xv. 21. The awful, the threatening, reproving, rebuking, correcting, warning, alarming, convicting, condemning, and cursing parts of God's word, are sure to bring, heavy tidings to his ears. And indeed it is under the word of God, faithfully preached, that men are brought to God's bar, to take their great trial for eternity and, if the word binds them upon earth, in heaven they are bound; and, if the word of truth makes them free, they shall be free indeed, John, viii. 32. They are loosed upon earth and in heaven they are loosed, Matt. xvi, 19. The sinner that God takes in hand is up to all this; he knows he is under his great trial; and that he shall stand or fall at the great day according as the scriptures of truth decide his fate by the word preached. If he be cast and condemned by the word, he is the same by the Judge himself; for he is sure that he "shall not stand in the judgment" if he cannot stand "in the congregation of the righteous," Psalm i. 5.
But though God seems to deal so terribly with the poor sinner, yet he only aims to humble him, debase him, empty him of self, and meeken and soften his stubborn spirit, and not to destroy him; and therefore he says, "I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wrath; for the Spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made," Isa. lvii. 16. A continual sense of wrath would drink up the spirits, Job, vi. 4. and perpetual contention would drown the soul in despair; but God says this shall not be the case, for "I will not contend for ever." And no sooner does the Holy Spirit produce a godly sorrow, but the terrible and threatening parts of God's word seem, as it were, to blow over; and the softening, alluring, and encouraging promises seem to operate; yea, the comforting, inviting, soul-cheering, enlivening, and attracting parts of the scriptures flow in with much light and comfort; and the promissory parts of the word of God appear sweet, salutary, and enlarging; which animates and cheers the soul wonderfully: on which account the gospel, and the promises of it, are called by the angel "all the words of this life," Acts, v. 20. As soon as the encouraging and comforting promises enter, wrath subsides; while light and love diffuse their distant rays, working, a surprising change in the soul. "And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee; though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me," Isa. xii. 1. Now, though these first entrances of truth and comforting power may not root up, nor root out, all doubts and fears, and the ground of them; yet such a chance is made, and such enlivening and cheering sensations are enjoyed, that the sinner gets comfort against the fears of death: and in the enlivening frames which he feels, though he be far from deliverance from all his troubles - "This is my comfort in my affliction, for thy word hath quickened me," Psalm cxiii. 50.
The next springing up of this divine life discovers itself in the rising up of hope. Hope is intended to counteract despondency, to hold the shattered vessel from sinking; it turns the mind from looking back to looking forward, from bitter reflections to future expectations, from meditations of terror, to contemplations of mercy. Hope is employed about things future, things good, things promised, and things much needed; and is always annexed with salvation; "For we are saved by hope," Rom. viii. 24. And this hope is a sweet hand-maid to the poor distressed soul; it attends him in prayer, and is a firm expectation of future prevalency with God. It attends him to the house of God; and, if it meets with discouragement or disappointment, which is called hope deferred, and which is said to make the heart sick, so as for the poor sinner to begin to sink and despond, yet it rises up again, and at times carries a considerable degree of assurance in it. "I will," says Paul, "that every one of you do shew the same diligence, and full assurance of hope, firm to the end." Hope axes stronger and stronger by labouring, under difficulties, and rises up with more vigour after strong oppositions. Moreover, hope makes our troubles lighter; it enables the sinner to submit to the will of God, and is a great promoter of, and much encourages to, the exercise of patience. "If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." I always think that the vessel of mercy crosses the line when hope springs up, and that the bitterness of death is then past; for as we sink deeper and deeper in the horrible pit, and matters get worse and worse, and all future prospects look more and more dismal, while we appear without God, and have no hope in the world, so when hope springs up we rise higher and higher, and matters look more and more promising. This makes us hug and kiss the rod, and teaches us to submit, and accept the punishment of our iniquities. Nor would such a soul part with the chastisements of his most propitious Father, or be without them for all the world. He knows that things will end well with him, and this keeps him steadfast, and watchful at wisdom's gate. And this hope is not a dead thing, but a most labourious grace; for, as faith works by love, so hope works with patience; it makes us eye the promises, and leads us to expect the accomplishment of them. Nor shalt the hoping soul be disappointed; "For surely there is an end, and thine expectation shall not be cut off," Prov. xxiii. 18.
The Spirit shining upon the word, and affording the soul some relief and encouragement, that very relief and encouragement discovered in the word, is by the Spirit realized to the heart. And it is an experience of these sweet influences that worketh hope. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope," Rom. xv. 4. To this hope does our covenant God and Father beget us; and it is as true that divine life lies in this hope. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," 1 Peter, i. 3. If it be a lively hope, then life must be in it, as there is but one hope; for "we are all called in one hope of our calling;" then all hopes but this are dead. And, as this hope hath life in it, so eternal life is the expectation of it A lively hope through grace expects a life in glory, and shall have it. "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began," Titus, i. 2.
The springing up of this divine life appears further, in The power and energy which often attend the word, the suitableness and seasonableness of the promises in their soul-dissolving, applications, the strength and encouragement that attends their powerful entrance, the nobleness and richness conveyed thereby to the mind, the wonderful field that appears to open, and the transporting and ravishing views presented to the enlightened understanding thereby. And, though the poor awakened sinner may be but now and then favoured with these banquets, and these may be very short, and succeeded with much bitterness, yet they are highly prized by him; and he finds by these things, though but in a small degree, yet it is going in and out and finding pasture, and Satan is sorely displeased at it. And this appears by the most violent temptations which generally follow upon such kind indulences, and which Satan, by the instrumentality of carnal reason and unbelief, labours hard to dispute him out of; and the poor creature labours as hard to hold them fast. And it gives him such a relish for the heavenly fire, that he esteems the word of God's mouth more than his necessary food, Job, xxiii. 12. - And this feeds the living principle within, called the hidden man of the heart; for that which is born of God is nourished and fed by the Spirit and word of God; for the principal thing in the new man is life, and it is divine life that feeds and nourishes that principle. It eats the word of life, the bread of life, and drinks the water of life, and every drop of comfort that flows from the Spirit of life, "being, born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever," I Peter, i. 23., Therefore, "as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby, if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious," I Peter, ii. 2. Observe the Apostle's word, "being born again," - that is regenerated by the Holy Spirit not of corruptible seed, as our first birth was, but of incorruptible seed; by which he means the various graces of the Holy Spirit, to which he gives four names.
And these through Christ, who ascended to heaven, there to appear for us; and who received of the Father the promise of the Spirit, and sent him down to renew us, and to implant this incorruptible seed of his grace in our souls, which is done by the ministry of the word, or by the instrumentality of preaching; for as God, in the great and precious promises of the new covenant, promised to pour his Spirit upon Christ's seed, and his blessing upon his off spring, so by the Word preached he gives testimony of his faithfulness and truth, by sending his Holy Spirit to attend it, and make it effectual by working his divine nature in all them to whom it comes with power, and who yield the obedience of faith. Now this "incorruptible seed," saith he, "liveth and abideth for ever." For as sin by Adam's fall hath reigned unto death, through the infernal hatred of Satan both to God and man, even so shall the love and favour of God reign, through the obedience of the second Adam, to eternal life.
He calls them new-born babes, because very lately begotten to this lively hope, and because they had but newly begun to taste that the Lord is gracious, and to relish the joys of his countenance, the consolations of the Spirit, the sweetness of the promises; and had some small beginnings of the preciousness of Christ, which he calls the sincere milk of the word. For the promises are full of spiritual blessings; and, as these promises are applied by the Spirit, so we suck these cheering blessings out, as we are enabled to mix faith with them.
Now, although the poor coming sinner, who is favoured with this blessed hope in its first stage, and who begins to feel the first encouraging entrances of the word of life, yet, being baffled by Satan, hood-winked with the wretched remains of the old veil, it having but lately begun to rend, and often to close again, he may not be able to discern the safety and goodness of his state, yet I believe that, the very moment the spirit of life enters the heart, and quickens the soul, then, the principle of life being infused, that soul is brought forth from the dismal and insensible sleep of death, which the Apostle calls a being dead in trespasses and sins. "You" saith he, "hath God quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." For such a soul is not only alarmed and awakened, but quickened; and, if quickened, he comes forth from the sleep of death. "He that is our God is the God of salvation, and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death," Psalm lxviii. 20. As soon as the soul verges from the sleep of death he is styled an issue, or an offspring; and is begotten from death by the quickening energy of the Spirit, to a lively hope by the powerful application of the word of truth. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures," James, i. 18. And in this sense I understand the following passage, - "Before she travailed she brought forth, before her pain came she was delivered of a manchild. Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things," Isaiah, lxvi. 7, 8. The Lord may well say, Who hath heard such a thing? No such thing ever appeared in nature, but in grace it doth appear. Before she travailed she brought forth: before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child.
Now take notice of what I advance. A soul dead in sin, and altogether insensible of it, is said, in scripture language, to be in the sleep of death, as I before observed; and God is said to pour out upon the Jews the spirit of a deep sleep; and some sleep a perpetual sleep, and shall not awake, Jer. li. 39. That is, they shall never be awakened nor alarmed, nor open their eyes in this world; but, like the rich man, lift up their eyes in hell.
Against this sleep David prays, "Consider, and hear me, O Lord, my God; lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death," Psalm xiii. 3. Now it cannot mean that before Zion travailed perfect love cast out all fear, which is that glorious work that makes our new birth clear to us; for her fears and torments were not come on. But the sense appears to me to be this. - She brought forth a principle of divine life before she travailed; before her pains came the new man was formed, and her soul delivered from death. And I think my own experience will bear me out even in this; for, when this work was begun in me, something like a flash of lightning, but quicker than flash of lightning, but quicker than that, shone into my soul, and all through me; my understanding or mind perceived something of a pale flame; and I now believe that the Holy Spirit that moment took possession of me; and I have always viewed that to be the Spirit's first illuminating and quickening power on my soul, and God is the best judge of the labour and travail that followed upon it.
Divine life, in its springing up, is discovered further by the sensible workings of Faith; for, as the word gets free course into the heart, it brings its own evidence with it; and the more powerful it comes, the more powerful the confidence is that attends it" Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," Rom.x.17. Faith is the hand-maid of the word, which accompanies it to the heart, makes room for it, and entertains it; and, if the word comes with great power, and in the Holy Ghost, then it comes also with much assurance, 1 Thess. i. 5. Faith takes its steps as we are enabled to exercise it "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting, life," John, v. 24.
The first entrance of the word, in its convicting operations, being attended with the divine displeasure, and terrible majesty of God, leads the sinner to believe the truth of all divine revelation. Much of the threatening part of the Scriptures being already applied to him, and fulfilled in him, makes him believe the promissory part also, and the safety of those who are interested therein. Even Saul, when God left him, and answered him no more, saw both his own rejection and the choice of David; and told David he knew that he would surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel would be established in his hand; which prophecy is fulfilled in every believer to this day. The whole of divine revelation gains credit in the souls of all that are truly convinced of sin. But, when any encouraging discoveries are made of Christ, and all salvation being alone in him, our scattered thoughts fly like doves to their windows, to consider the record that God has given of his Son. And, when the glorious light of the Gospel begins to shine into our hearts, and the glory of God to spread its enlivening and transporting beams, we find it hard work to believe in the light, that we may be the children of light, John, xii. 36. It appears so glorious, so great, so good, and altogether so clear and so free, that the transported soul exclaims, Surely it never can be true! Now Faith begins in triumph, and to believe not only the record that God hath given of his Son, but to believe in the name of the only-begotten Son of God himself. This makes the injurious bar of unbelief give way; the heart enlarges upon the application of every truth; and expectation and hope rise to the very height of the watch-tower. But, in order to exercise patience, it is often observed that these rays, which are but the utmost skirts of the Lord's glory, appear (as Ezekiel calls it, chap. i. 4) "a fire enfolding, itself," or catching itself in. And these intermixtures of light and darkness, and the heart enlarging and contracting in concert with them, keep their poor soul rejoicing and trembling until Faith lays hold of the atonement, brings it in, purifies the heart, and purges the conscience from dead works by it; upon which peace with God flows in, and friendship with God takes place. Sin being removed, nearness of access to God succeeds. The righteousness of Christ is put on, and the curse of a broken law goes out. Thus the atonement removes the sting of death, and a justifying, righteousness removes the ministration of death. "Verily, Verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life," John,, v. 24. This is another precious springing up of the life of God in the soul. "Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it," Numb. xxi. 17. "Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward", Isaiah, Iviii. 8.
Now, here I must look about me, and pick out all that I can, for I am quite in my element, and in which my soul delights. First, here is the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace, which is called by Peter the grace of life. Furthermore upon this forgiveness there is a spiritual blessing pronounced. "Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered; Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile," Psal. xxxii. 1, 2. Here is a twofold blessing, and they are both spiritual blessings; and all God's spiritual blessings are life, for "upon Mount Zion God commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, and blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity."
And there is also one blessing more in this glorious cluster; For "blessed is the man to whom God imputeth righteousness without works." And the reason of this blessing is, because the sentence of death is removed, upon the sentence of justification being passed. "Therefore, as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life," Rom. v. 18. And again, "For, if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ," Rom. v. 17. When I began this scribble, reader, I set mine eyes and my heart upon God's blessing, of eternal life; and hitherto I have closely pursued it, and hope in my God that I shall never lose sight of it to all eternity, and I firmly believe that I never shall. And in this my pursuit, I have kept that ghastly enemy, death, in view also, endeavouring, to shew that the springing up of this divine life roots out and banishes death. And our great Apostle, in the two last-quoted passages, seems to me to have been pursuing the same chase in his ministry; that is, abolishing death, and bringing life and immortality to light by the Gospel. And so, in the above description which I have endeavoured to give of this springing well, two branches of death are removed. If we receive the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace, and which is the grace of life, then the sting, of death is removed, and access to the living God is granted. Upon justification unto life the law and its curse are removed; then the ministration of death is abolished from our hearts, 2 Cor. iii. 13. "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," 1 Cor. xv. 55.
But the believer stops not here; there is a further springing up of this living water. Moses in the Psalm that bears his name, fixes his eyes and his heart, and directs his prayer, for the highest attainment of a work of grace. "Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it," Ps. xc. 16, 17. Moses prays that God's work of grace might appear to his ministering servants, and the children which such servants should beget in their bonds, that the glory of God might appear to them: and this he calls the beauty of the Lord; not that which appeared at the giving of the law, for that was terrible Majesty, which bears that great and fearful name that made him fear and quake. He talks about the good-will of him that dwelt in the bush; the angel of the covenant who went before him, and gave him rest; in whom the glorious covenant name, which God proclaimed before him, was to be found. "Obey his voice, for my name," says God, "is in him." This beautiful person Moses calls our life, and the length of our days. It was this blessed one that told Moses he knew him, and that he had found grace in his sight; the rays of whose face shone so sweetly upon the skin of Moses, when he was typifying him as mediator: and this beauty of the Lord our God is, God shining reconciled and well-pleased in the face of his dear Son. Here his eternal goodness, mercy, pity, and compassion, faithfulness and truth, all appear. And sure I am that nothing will establish the work of Faith in us but this. "When the Lord shall build up Zion he shall appear in his glory," Ps. cii. 16. But what builds us up? Not knowledge. "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth," I Cor. viii. 1. It is in love to men that God laid the foundation, which is Christ crucified; and it is love in men that unites and cements the foundation and building together. Charity edifieth - it builds up and raises the edifice of mercy. "When the Lord builds up Zion he shall appear in his glory." And where is this glorious appearance to be made? Why "God, who caused the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not or us," 2 Cor. iv. 7. The eye of faith and the enlightened understanding discover this, and this is a through transforming view. "For we all with open face, beholding as in a glass of the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord," 2 Cor. iii. 18. And in this act Faith reaches her hand to the highest thing attainable in this life, namely, to the eternal love of God in Christ Jesus. When our dear Lord hung upon the cross he bore our sins in his own body on the tree, then the sting, of death took hold of him; and by faith in him our hearts are purified; then, "O death, where is thy sting?" I Cor. xv. 55.
He was condemned, through innocent, and died the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, 1 Peter. iii. 18. He was made a curse for us, that he might redeem us from the curse of the law, Gal. iii. 13.
The sentence of death and the wrath of God in a broken law took hold of him as our surety. "He treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God," Rev. xix. 15. And he laid down his life for his sheep.
He suffered temporal death also, which is a separation of the body from the soul. His body went into the tomb; but his soul, as an offering for sins, went into the hand of God. "Into thy hands I commend my spirit," Luke, xxiii. 46. In all these he sweetly exhibited the eternal love of God to poor sinners, "that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man," Heb. ii. 9. Wonderful is this divine expression of "tasting death;" for this was all done in his own person, and not in his body mystical, the church: and in this tasting of death he opened a way to God upon earth, and drank a saving health to a multitude of sinners. "That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations," Psalm lxvii. 2. Now, when Christ comes to present his victory over death to poor sinners, he not only tells us that he has tasted death for us in his own person, but even that he swallowed up death for all the family who feel their need of him; for he declares that he will destroy it in them. And "in this mountain destroy the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces," Isaiah xxv. 7, 8.
The plain English of all this is, that, as our surety and representative, he tasted of every kind of death for every one of his family; he laid down his life for all his sheep; and, though in his own person he tasted death for his people, yet in the application of the saving benefits of his cross, when it comes to be applied by his Spirit to the children of Zion, it should be swallowed up in his body mystical. That by faith in him, and in his finished work, not only death in all its formidable branches should be rooted up, but even the fear of it, by a sense of his dying love, be cast out, and even kept out. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love; casteth out fear, because fear hath torment: he that feareth is not made perfect in love," I John, iv. 18. And at the resurrection morning, when the dead in Christ shall rise first, temporal death, which is what all the highest favourites of heaven to this day lie under, shall arise; and in their resurrection shall the above passage have its full accomplishment. "He will swallow up death in victory," Isaiah, xxv. 8. "So, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory," 1 Cor. xv. 54. The condemned sinner finds it no difficult thing to believe the spirituality of God's law, because the curse and wrath of God are both applied to him; and he will believe, and tremble too, who is filled with reproof and rebuke: but for a polluted sinner that sees his own vileness, and who is under the deepest impressions of the holiness, justice, and immutability, of God-for such a poor wretch to believe that he is an object of God's everlasting love, is what nothing but Faith from above can credit. This has always appeared to me to be the difficult work of Faith. Tell the poor awakened sinner of this, when he is in the horrible pit and in the miry clay, and I should not wonder if he answered you, as the unbelieving lord answered Elisha, "If God would make windows in heaven might such a thing be:" or like poor Job in his affliction, who declared that, "If I had called, and he had answered me, yet would I not believe that he had hearkened unto my voice, for he breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds without cause," Job, ix. 16, 17. But so it is; what God applies, that man, believes. When the commandment comes with power the sinner will say, with David, "Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments," Ps. cxix. 66. Nor will the sinner ever tremble at God's word until he believes and feels God's word to be levelled at him. He that is convinced of all, and judged of all, and has the thoughts of his heart made manifest, will report that God of a truth is in such speakers: but a sinner in such circumstances dares not report what he does not believe. So, when Christ comes into the heart, and we feel and enjoy the benefits of his death, we believe, as Paul did - "I live by the faith of the Son of God, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." But sometimes we have more than we can believe. We may have the grace of Faith when we have not the light of Faith. It is one thing to get wisdom, which is the principal thing; but it is another thing to get understanding or light to see what we have gotten. I believe that Christ was in all his elect disciples in the days of his flesh; but I much question if they all knew it, because the Lord said unto them, "At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you," John, xiv. 20. So it is also with respect to the love of God in Christ: the sinner may and does believe in it, because it is clearly revealed; but, if he has no discoveries, views, or prospects of it; no feeling sense of it, or hope in it; he cannot believe it with an application to himself, because of the powerful working of unbelief, which Satan stirs up, strengthens, and improves to the uttermost, against him. The same Spirit that works Faith in the heart presents to Faith's view, and applies to the hand of Faith, all things that are to be believed and embraced. "He shall take of the things that are mine," says Christ, "and shall show them unto you." But, until we have some experimental knowledge of the love of God to us, we cannot believe with an application to ourselves. It is true that charity believeth all things: but this charity must come first � "We love him," says John, "because he first loved us:" and John sets knowledge before faith - "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us: God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him," I John, iv. 16. Paul expresses his faith in the love of God in Christ, the fullest of any in the Bible. "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," Rom. viii. 38, 39. But this same Apostle tells us that the love of God was shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto them; so that their faith embraced what the Holy Spirit applied. And this is another wonderful springing up of eternal life in the heart; for this life is found in love. "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live," Deut. xxx. 6. There is, as I observed before, eternal life in this sovereign of all graces, called love, which never fails, and which accompanies the soul in its passport out of this world, and passes with it into the next, and ever lives in the world to come. And this blessed spring of divine life abolishes another branch of death, and that is the fear of death. Death is a sad enemy, and to this the awakened sinner is in continual bondage: but love casteth out all fear; the slavish fear of future judgment, the fear of wrath and ruin, the carnal fear of man, the terrifying fear of Satan, and all other fear but that which is peculiar to a child of God; which is not legal, nor slavish, but filial; and which has got the love, mercy, and compassion, of God for its object. "They shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days," Hosea, iii. 5.
I shall now proceed to treat of another rising up of this divine life, which is found in repentance; but not such sort of repentance as Mr. Hart sings�
Some long repent, and late believe;
I am fully persuaded that there is no repentance without faith. The devils are said to believe and tremble, because the wrath and curse of God is in them. And I doubt not but Judas had the same faith when the curse and wrath of God entered into him: be repented himself, and was terrified, grieved, and sorry for what he had done; but then it was grief and desperate sorrow, Isa. xvii. 11. His repentance found no place in the mercy of God, nor in the death of Christ, and therefore it was desperate sorrow, and desperate repentance; without hope, and without remedy. Repentance springs not from the application of the law, when God's curse and man's crimes meet together in the court of conscience; which is always attended with another meeting, namely, the just indignation of God and the carnal enmity of man. And where this apparent irreconcilable enmity seems to work within, no place of repentance appears; there is room for desperate sorrow, but not for sorrow after a godly sort. The sinner may wish the evil things that he hath done were undone, which is one branch of repentance: but at the same time he loves sin in his heart, and feels his enmity work against God, and he would fain flee out of his hand if be could. Besides, repentance is not a thing extorted by indignation and wrath. Repentance is not attended with a fleeing from God, but it is repentance toward God; not repentance without faith, but coupled with it. - "Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" Acts, xx. 21. We are not driven to it, but led. Terrible majesty is not the object of it, but goodness. "The goodness of God leadeth us to repentance," Rom. ii. 4. The Apostles joined forgiveness of sins with that repentance which they preached; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, Luke, xxiv. 47. Repentance is a grace that is to be found in the fullness of Christ, where all grace is treasured up: and, as the prince of peace, and the only Saviour of men, he bestows it upon all the chosen subjects of his empire. It is a grace of his kingdom, and is often exercised by every loyal subject of his, not only at first, but upon every after transgression, as appears from the following passage, "And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness, and fornication, and lasciviousness, which they have committed," 2 Cor. xii. 21. Legal repentance is always attended with self-pity and enmity to God: it works fear of the punishment of sin, but no real hatred to it: it is always mixed with pride and self-righteousness, but no self-abasement, nor true relish for spiritual provision. Evangelical repentance is a free-grace gift in Christ, who is exalted to give it. "Him hath God exalted with his right hand, to be a prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins," Acts, v. 32. It is the riches of God's goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, that leads men to repentance, Rom. ii. 4. It is man's misery and God's mercy meeting together in the conscious sinner. It is the loving father and the relenting son meeting together in Christ Jesus. God makes us accepted in the beloved. Here the sin-sick soul and the great physician, the condemned criminal and the Lord our righteousness, the insolvent debtor and the divine surety, the broken heart and the bond of love, soft words and broken bones, the filthy wretch an cleansing fountain, the starving soul and the bread of God, the killing kiss and the marriage bond, meet together. And this produces such strange effects, that, if even the devils were thus indulged, they would repent in sackcloth and ashes. Real repentance rises from this joyful meeting, and vital union. Such souls are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. "Surely after that I was turned I repented; and after that I was instructed I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth," Jer. xxxi. 19. This sprung not from a spirit of bondage, but from the spirit of adoption; not from a servant, but from a son; as the next words shew - "Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him," &c. Evangelical repentance springs from a believing view of a reconciled God and father in the face of Christ, and of our interest in his eternal love. "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes," Job, xlii. 5, 6. Repentance rises from humble submission to the will of God, and the obedience of faith. "Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterwards he repented and went, and did the will of his Father," Matt. xxi. 29. And this is both the will and work of God, that we believe in him whom he hath sent. Repentance is attended with self-abasement, and a sense of the pacification of God toward us. "And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God," Ezek. xvi. 62, 63. This is another sweet stream from the springing well of eternal life; as it is written, "And when they heard these things they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life," Acts, xi. 18. It is called repentance unto life, because it flows out at God's cordial acceptance of us in Christ Jesus, and is a grace that is exercised under a sense of the dying love of Jesus, and in the favour of God in whose favour there is life, and "he that findeth me," says Christ, "findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord." It is this work that crucifies the sinner to this world and the world to him. It stirs up all the lees and dregs, dross and tin, filth and scum, from the bottom of the heart, and works it out; and makes the vessel of mercy pure and clean, sound and good at heart; and leaves not so much as a doubt or fear, if or but, misgiving or scruple, in all the regions of mind and conscience; and is a death's wound to legal pride and self-righteousness, worldly cares, and the deceitfulness of riches, which are the briers and thorns that the devil sets to war against the work of God and the law of the mind: but, when God brings forth our judgment unto victory, and takes possession of the heart, he goes through these briers and burns them altogether, lsa. xxvii. 4. And where there is nothing of this repentance unto life, whatever promising prospects or favourable appearances there may be, lusts and corruptions, cares and covetousness, as our Lord says, will spring up and choke the word, for the want of root, deepness of earth, and moisture; and then they are sure to harden and crow callous under all reproof and rebuke, and under the most powerful and spiritual ministry, that ever appeared in the world, as may be seen in Judas under the ministry of Christ, in Ananias under the preaching of Peter, and in Demas under the labours of Paul.
The next pleasing stream of divine life that rises in the soul is that which so powerfully works in the renewed mind - "For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace," Rom. viii. 6. The mind is the busiest faculty in the soul of man, and will be busily employed about something, either good or evil: but this by the spirit of God is purified and renewed. Hence you read in Peter of a pure mind; and by Paul of being renewed in the spirit of the mind, which consists in the Holy Spirit's subduing our sin, and bringing under the carnality and enmity that works in the mind, and those fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and writing the law of faith in it, accompanied with that love that is the fulfilling of the law, shedding it abroad in the heart. And now, the book of God being unsealed, the covenant of grace exhibited to the renewed mind, and to the covenant of grace exhibited to the renewed mind and to the enlightened understanding, it roves in and ploughs up the secret mysteries of the kingdom, the secret decrees of God, his goodwill of purpose and of promise, his counsel and his covenant, the many folds of his wisdom, and the rich displays of his grace, the present earnest and the future lump, the first-fruits of the spirit in hand, and the harvest of glory in hope. These things now become the employ of the mind, and the meditation of the heart: these things the renewed soul loves, in these it delights; and the Holy Spirit still gives us fresh discoveries to explore, and fresh matter of wonder: and here we give up our conversation and contemplations to the higher world: and the spirit of wisdom, which writes these laws of faith and love in the mind and heart, speaks by them to the soul - "When thou goest it shall lead thee, when thou steepest it shall keep thee, and when thou awakest it shall talk with thee," Prov. vi. 22. "To be spiritually minded is life and peace." Nor is this divine life an inactive principle which lies dormant, but a working one, as the Apostle intimates when speaking of the infirmities of old age gaining upon him, where he says - "So then death worketh in us, but life in you," 2 Cor. iv. 12. And hence we are said not only to be quickened, but raised up, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and to be planted together in the likeness of his resurrection: not representatively only, but by the soul's ascension to God under the influence of the Holy Spirit, which is expressed by having our hope as an anchor of the soul within the veil, and by setting our affections on things above, at the right hand of God where Christ sitteth, and by having our conversation in heaven. Moreover, this powerful springing up of divine life is discovered to us by the most delightful refreshings and entertainments which the Holy Spirit sets forth in the soul - "And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses: one shall say, I am the Lord's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord; and surname himself by the name of Israel," Isai. xliv. 4, 5. Here is first their springing up as among the grass, leaving the grass (the children of this world) behind. This growth is set forth by the willow, and the Spirit and his grace by the water-courses. And you may see what works in the heart, by the confessions of their months; "I am the Lord's;" he has loved, chosen, redeemed, called, justified, and sanctified me. This is a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ. The next calls himself by the name of Jacob: and rightly so called says the believer, for I have got both the birthright and the blessing; I am born again and am a partaker of the blessing of heaven, even life for evermore. The third subscribes with the hand of faith to the Lord; he lays his hand of faith upon the promises, and sets to his seal that God is true to his word; a God-bearing and answering prayer; and styles himself a prevailer with God, an Israelite indeed, though not an Israelite after the flesh.
Moreover, there is a continual flowing of the Spirit of grace from the Mediator's fullness, by the word, to all believers; and, as the waters of life flow into us, so grace springs up in us � "And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not," Isa. Ivii. 11. "For, as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations," Isa. Ixi. 11. This springing up in us is the exercising of the different graces of the Spirit upon God through a Mediator, and the heart discharging, its spiritual contents in confessions, in prayers, praises, blessing, joyful acclamations and songs, with grace in the heart, making melody to God.
And it is this grace of life by the Spirit that feeds the gifts of all the real ministers of Christ, who are ministers of the Spirit, and stewards of the mysteries and of the manifold grace of God: and, without this grace of life, the most splendid abilities and the most shining parts; zeal, apparent fervour, understanding, and fluency of speech, all will wither, fade, and come to nothing at last; for, as the Spirit never blowed so as to wither the grass and fade the flowers at their entering into a profession, these flowers are sure to spring up and choke their profession sooner or later. And whenever an consciousness of hypocrisy, presumption, and deception, stares them in the face, and Satan, who has emboldened them and supported them, comes to turn the tables upon them, as he always does when our heavenly Father takes the fruitless branch from the vine, as he did Judas; then they find Paul's s saying true � "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," Heb. x. 31. Thus have I endeavoured, as well as I am able, to set forth the beginning and springing up of eternal life in the souls of God's elect, and also how it roots out death as it rises, as
1st. When God by his Holy Spirit quickens us, then are we brought forth from the sleep of death, Psal. xiii. 3.
2nd. That the light of life rescues the mind and understanding from the dark regions of the shadow of death, Isa. ix. 2.
3rd. That God, begetting us to a lively hope, counteracts despair, which leads to death. "We are saved by hope."
4th. That faith, apprehending the atonement and purifying the heart by it, brings the life promised to faith, and purges sin, which is the sting of death, I Cor. xv. 56.
5th. That faith, putting on an imputed righteousness for the justification of our persons, we are then said to pass from death to life, so as never more to come into condemnation: this is called justification unto life, Rom. v. 18. This delivers our souls from the sentence of death, and from the ministration of it; for "there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus," Rom. viii. 1.
6th. That the kingdom of God set up in the heart, which stands in divine power, in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, this delivers us from him that had the power of death, that is the devil; for this translates us out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God's dear Son - "That, as sin had reigned unto death, even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord," Rom. v. 21.
7th. That the love of God, shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, is called God's circumcising our heart, to love him that we may live, and that this life of love casts out even the fear of death, when we are made perfect in love.
8th. That God's writing, the law of faith in the mind, and putting the law of love into the heart, makes the mind heavenly; and "to be spiritually minded is life and peace." This delivers its from the reigning carnality of the mind which carries death in it, for "to be carnally minded is death."
9th. And, as for death temporal, that is turned into a sleep for "he that believes shall never die." And thus this change of heart turns the king of terrors into the gift of heaven. "All things are yours, whether life or death," 1 Cor. iii. 22. And this is what I understand by abolishing death, and bringing life and immortality to light through the Gospel. But I must think of dropping the subject, having spent six whole days, early and late, at this work. Indeed, I do believe that God sent this cold and hoarseness upon me that I might have time to publish my thoughts upon this pleasure and important subject. It is to the last degree incumbent upon every sincere seeker of Christ to attend to this very thing above every thing else; namely, whether they have life; for comfort may be fetched from this matter, in the worst afflictions. "This is my comfort in my affliction, for the word hath quickened me," Psalm cxix. 50. "I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord. The Lord hath chastened me sore, but he hath not given me over unto death," Psalm cxviii. 17, 18. Where this divine principle is, there the leaf of profession must and shall be green; they shall not, cannot wither, nor shall they ever cease from yielding, fruit, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. But wherever there is a profession, or even a ministry, without divine life in the heart, the leaf of that profession shall wither, their unripe fruit shall be shaken off, all external appearances, reformation, gifts, and abilities, shall be taken away, and they shall be taken away from Christ, from the communion of saints, and be cast out of the prayers and affections of God's children, and out of all their profession too; and, if they continue until death, even then their hope shall perish, it being not a lively hope, but the hope of the hypocrite "And the hope of unjust men perisheth," Prov. xi. 7. The faithfulness and truth of God himself stand bound to strip the lifeless professor, and minister of the letter, from all their empty and barren profession, and from all their presumptuous claims upon God, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away;" and they are burned, for there can be no fruit where there is no life: and how few are there that find this strait gate, and narrow way, that leads to life!
This life appears wonderfully in times of trouble, when temptation and persecution come on because of the word; at which times the lifeless professor takes offence, withers, and falls away. It is often seen that the quickened soul waxes more bold, takes courage, increases in spiritual might, and knowing his God, becomes strong, and doth exploits, Dan. xi. 32. As his days, so shall his strength be, for God is a very present help in time of trouble; and they that know his covenant name will put their trust in him. He is never more earnest, never more devout, never more fervent, never more above himself, never more instant in prayer or prevalent with God, than when he is opposed, oppressed, or in the furnace of affliction. He then musters up all his evidences, and hugs even them which he thought but little of before. When God has planted his heavenly crop of divine grace, by his Spirit in the soul, it is his intention that the believer shall make use of them; and, in order to this, he puts him into the furnace, and brings him into such straits, that he shall either engage and prevail, or turn his back, in the day of battle. He shall either pray, or relinquish all claim upon God, believe or flee, hope or despond, dispute his ground or give up all for lost as may be seen in Moses at the Red Sea, in Sampson in the house of Dagon, Jonah, in the whale's belly, and Hezekiah in his affliction, who found his life where he expected nothing but death. "Oh Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit. So wilt thou recover me, and make me to live," Isai. xxxviii. 16.
It is in these straits that the believer is obliged to exercise all his arms and armour, and at such times it is that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. Here, it is that the king is held in the galleries. The spouse holds him and will not let him go. In such like straits Jacob obtained his victory. He must wrestle, and prevail too, or else see the death of his whole house, according to all human appearance. So it appears also in the Lord's answer to him. "As a prince hast thou power with God and with man, and hast prevailed." He prevailed over Esau and his banditti as well as over the "I will," says God, "bring the third part through the fire, and I will refine them as silver is refined, and try them as gold is tried. They shall call upon my name, and I will hear them, and I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God," Zech . xiii. 9. And what is this third part which is to be brought through the fire? Why, the elect of God, and no other. "And it shall come to pass that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die, but the third part shall be left therein," Zech. xiii. 8. And this third part are to be acknowledged for the Lord's people, and they are to claim him for their God.
Divine life will stand the furnace. Neither the world, the flesh, the devil, sin, nor heretics, shall ever be able to wither or kill those trees of righteousness which God waters every moment, and which he keeps night and day. Nor doth God communicate his grace by any minister of the letter; such ministers may alarm the natural consciences of men; and Satan, having possession of their hearts, may work with their natural convictions, and toss them about with wild, violent, and strange horrors and terrors; and, by the assistance of the devil transformed, He may beget them to a bold, daring, presumptuous confidence, which may at times be attended with natural meekness, fleshly pity, and even transient joys may spring up; but, as sure as the God of heaven liveth, so sure will all this crop wither, either in the furnace or in death. I have long watched this, and have never been disappointed yet; nor do I believe I ever shall be. God communicates his Spirit by the ministers of the Spirit. Grace is communicated by the instrumentality of the good stewards of the manifold grace of God, and by no other. The righteousness of Christ goes from faith to faith, not from hypocrites to infidels. God gives testimony to the word of his grace, not to the letter. Ministers of the letter can minister nothing but death. "The letter killeth," and that is all it can do, It is the Spirit that giveth life. And he must have salt in himself that seasons others, or that ministers grace to the hearers. "Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift, is like clouds and wind without rain," Prov. xxv. 14; that is, without the water of life. But the gift of life in Christ "is a precious stone in the eyes of him that, hath it; whithersoever it turneth it prospereth," Prov. xvii. 8. He must come to Christ and drink, out of whose belly flows rivers of living water; and this water is communicable. "The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters, and the well-spring of wisdom as a flowing brook" Prov. xviii. 4. The brightest, and most deceived and deceivable, pupils of a letter minister, are always telling, you of a multitude of scriptures which have come to their mind at different times; this they all harp upon: but the kingdom of God is not in word. They that received seed by the way-side, and that were robbed and plundered by the devil, are said to hear or receive the word of the kingdom, Matt. xiii. 19; but not the kingdom itself. And such will talk much of their distresses, and of being in bondage; but there are more than ten bitter ingredients that compose a spirit of bondage, which they cannot describe: all their talk is in general terms. The sight of sin, sin being set in order before them, with all secret sins standing in the light of God's countenance; the intolerable sense and burden of sin, too heavy to be borne when brought in and charged home upon conscience; the cutting rebukes, with flames of fire, which attend the sword of the Spirit; for "by fire and by sword will the Lord plead with all flesh;" bitter reflections, and the lashes of conscience upon every reflection; the application of the broken law; the revival of sin upon it, and the cutting sentence of death that attends the entrance of it; the terrible majesty of God, his dreadful wrath, and the enmity of the carnal heart, that rises up against him; the blasphemous suggestions and fiery darts of Satan; the working of despondency, if not despair; the meditations of terror, the snares of death, the pains of hell, smoking jealousy, and those most dreadful passages of scripture, sent home or brought in by Satan, which set forth the dreadful state of apostates, hypocrites, or those given up of God to Satan, and to a fearful looking for of judgment. These are the things which cut the wild olive branch from the old stock, which none of the disciples of letter-men know any thing of. These things are peculiar to those, and only those, who in our day are called Antinomians. Legal convictions in appearance, in reformation of manners, in gifts, light, understanding, and speech, may make a great shew, and go a great way, when at the same time the heart, affections, and conscience, remain unpurged and unrenewed, and of course the strong man armed is still in full possession of the palace. Many a church, chapel, meeting, alms-house, college, school, and hospital, have sprung from legal convictions; even by them that could never endure the light of life, the force of truth, the power of the Spirit, or the company of those who have received a comforter that shall abide with them for ever. The believer gets his food and his strength for working, from a quarter that no man knows any thing of but himself. The springing well of grace in his heart, kept in motion by the Holy Ghost, is the moving cause of all his peace and happiness, hopes and expectations, from which springs all his good words and good works "I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me," I Cor. xv. 10. And not only works, but words, spring from the same source. "The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips," Prov. xvi. 23. It is under the influence and operations of God's spirit that the intercourse between God and the soul is kept open, and communion and fellowship with the Father and the Son is kept up through him. "We both have an access by one spirit unto the Father." And this is what I understand by that wonderful speech of Christ to Nathaniel. "And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man," John i. 51. I have observed that, whenever our Lord promised any great thing that should follow upon his resurrection, if we look, we are sure to find it, as when he said, "Verily, I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power," Mark, ix. 1. Now, as the kingdom of God stands in power, in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, many on the day of Pentecost saw the Spirit like a cloven tongue of fire; and they saw the power, glory, and majesty, that appeared on the Apostles. So, when Christ is speaking of the desolation of Jerusalem, and declaring that that generation should not pass away till all these things be fulfilled, the apostle John, Josephus, and many more, outlived the desolations of Jerusalem. But where do we read of Nathaniel, or any other, since Christ spoke those words, seeing the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, or any thing like it? Some writers tell us that, through the mediation of Christ, there would be such an intercourse open between heaven and earth, that it would seem as if angels were continually going to and fro with messages: but the words "seem as if" will by no means come up to the words "Verily, verity, I say unto you" that you shall see it. For my part, I do not believe that angels by nature are meant, but angels by office; namely, the children of God; who, having received the gift, minister the same one to another, and are often called angels, especially in the book of the Revelation; and Christ says, "The children of the resurrection are as the angels of God." Besides, angels need not a mediator, nor have they any; the Mediator is appointed for men. Christ is our ladder; but why angels should ascend and descend upon him I know not.
The heavens opening and shutting is what the weakest believer is often led to experience. The awakened soul, that feels the hardness of his heart and the anger of God, knows the meaning of Moses, and often complains of it. "And the heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under shall be iron," Deut. xxviii. 23. Nor are they strangers to the heavens opening in the sense the prophet Isaiah means. "O that thou wouldest rend the heavens that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence," Isaiah, xiv. 1. And again � "Drop down, ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together. I the Lord have created it," Isa. xlv. 8.
This ascending and descending upon the Son of Man respect the exercises of faith, hope, and love; and means no more than access to God through a Mediator. "I am the door; by me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture," John, x. 9. Ascending, and descending is the same as going in and out; which Christ says Nathaniel should see; and it may be seen, both by the happy and by the dejected frames of the children of God; yea, even enemies have seen it, much more friends. For, after the witnesses and churches had long suffered in sackcloth, they are represented as slain, or silenced, and lay unburied in the street of the great city: but after three days and a half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and set them upon their feet, and they ascended up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies beheld them, Rev. xi. 12. This ascension, under the power of the spirit of life, is no more than rising up out of trouble into a glorious and powerful state of heavenly mindedness. And, if their enemies could behold this, much more their friends; especially such as Nathaniel, who was an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile.
The religion contained in this small piece, Reader, is but little known in our day, for the general work carried on is drawing people into a profession, and setting them down short of Christ, short of the Holy Spirit, and of the grace of God, and of course short of the promised rest. The work of too many is that of making hypocrites, not enforcing the Spirit's work, nor insisting upon a new creation in Christ, a new nature by regeneration, service in newness of the Spirit, and a walk in newness of life. It consists in a few dry notions of truth, a little decent deportment, attendance upon the ministry of the letter, and to be armed with malice against every appearance of the power of godliness, and a hatred to all that enforce it, and to all that are in possession of it; it stands in varnishing the old man of sin; in dressing, adorning, and swaddling, fallen nature. All of which will leave the sinner worse than it found him. Stirring up the natural passions of sorrow, of grief, and of love, which some too much admire, will stand for nothing in God's account. There are natural affections (2 Tim. iii. 3); inordinate affections (Col. iii. 5); and vile affections (Rom. i. 26.) The best of these belong to corrupt nature. Nothing short of life by the quickening power of the Spirit of God can give you hope, and nothing short of the love of God shed abroad in the heart, can ever cast out that fear and torment which have death and judgment, wrath and ruin, for the objects of it. The errand of the Son of God into this world, was to give his poor lost sheep eternal life, and his Gospel is still continued to this end; and every preacher that is destitute of this divine life, is no more than a minister of the letter. And all such preachers will aim to set convinced sinners down destitute of this divine life; and surely such are the friends of Satan, and the enemies of Christ. If my Reader follows after this thing which good is, he must expect to be loaded with calumny and reproach. Spiritual minded men, and a spiritual ministry, have ever been treated with contempt. You have it both in the Old Testament and in the New � "The prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad, for the multitude of thine iniquity, and the great hatred," Hosea, ix. 7. Iniquity had blinded their eyes, and the carnal enmity of their minds broke forth into opprobrious language, charging inspiration with folly and madness. And they acted the same part with Christ himself; for, when they saw his miracles, and heard the mysteries that he preached, "they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself;" and others said, "He hath Beelzebub," Mark, iii. 21, 22. So they said of Paul, that much learning, made him mad: but in Christ Jesus is life, "and the life is the light of men," John, i. 4. This life is "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God," which is given us "in the face of Jesus Christ," 2 Cor. iv 6. This life, which is the light of men, is that salvation to men which is a lamp that burneth, Isa. ixii. 1. and that never goes out. He is the light of joy to men. "The light of the righteous rejoiceth when the lamp of the wicked is put out," Prov. xiii. 9. This life in Christ is the light of love, which teaches the children of God to love one another; and "he that loveth his brother abideth In this light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him," I John, ii. 10. This life in Christ is the light of our every deliverance, which brings us forth to the light, in which his righteousness to our justification appears, Micah, vii. 9. And if this life in him is the light of men, then to be without it is to be in the darkness of death, in the darkness of ignorance, and in the darkness of carnal enmity; without the lamp of salvation, without the oil of joy, without the light of God's countenance, without the light of saving knowledge, and without the light of love, which casteth out fear and torment. So I write, and so my Reader shall confess some time or other.
W.H. S. S.