Sometimes the believer will be under such a distemper, as that he will be as unfit and unable for discharging of any commanded duty, as dead men, or one in a swoon, is to work or go a journey. And it were good to know how Christ should be made use of as the Life, to the end the diseased soul may be delivered from this. For this cause we shall consider those four things:
1. See what are the several steps and degrees of this distemper.
2. Consider whence it cometh, or what are the causes or occasions thereof.
3. Consider how Christ is life to the soul in such a dead case; and,
4. Point out the way of the soul's use-making of Christ, that would be delivered herefrom.
As to the first, this distemper cometh on by several steps and degrees. It will be sufficient to mention some of the main and most remarkable steps; such as,
1. There is a falling from our watchfulness and tenderness; and when we leave our watch tower, we invite and encourage Satan to set upon us, as was said before.
2. There is going about duty, but in a lazy way, when we love and seek after carnal ease, and seek out ways of doing the duty, so as maybe least troublesome to the flesh, as the spouse did, Cant. iii.1, when she sought her beloved upon her bed.
3. There is a lying by, and not stirring up ourselves to an active way of going about duty, of which the prophet complaineth, Isa. liv.7, when he saith, there is none that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.
4. There is a giving way to spiritual drowsiness, and upsitting in duties, and in the way of God. |I sleep,| said the spouse, Cant. v.2, 3, and |I have put off my coat,| &c. She knew she was not right, but was drowsy, and yet she did not shake it off, but composed herself for it, took off her coat, and washed her feet, and so lay down to sleep.
5. There is a satisfaction and contentment with his condition, as thinking we are pretty well, at least for that time; and thus was the spouse in that forementioned place led away; she was so far from being dissatisfied with her condition, that she rather expressed contentment therewith.
6. There may be such a love to such a condition, and such a satisfaction in it, as that they may shift every thing that hath a tendency to rouse them up out of that sluggish laziness, as not loving to be awakened out of their sleep. So we see the bride shifts and putteth off Christ's call and invitation to her, to arise and open to him.
7. Yea, there is a defending of that condition, as at least tolerable and none of the worst; a justifying of it, or at least a pleading for themselves and excusing the matter, and covering over their neglect of duty with fair pretexts, as the spouse did when she answered Christ's call with this, that she had washed her feet and might not defile them again.
8. Yea, further, there is a pleading for this case, by alleging an impossibility to get it helped as matters now stand; or, at least, they will muster up insuperable-like difficulties in their own way of doing duty, as the sluggard will say, that there is a lion in the way; and the spouse alleged she could not put on her coat again.
9. Yea, it may come yet higher, even to a peremptory refusing to set about the duty; for what else can be read out of the bride's carriage, than that she would not rise and open to her beloved.
10. There is also a desperate laying the duty aside, as supposing it impossible to be got done, and so a resolute laying of it by as hopeless, and as a business they need not trouble themselves withal, because they will not get through it.
11. And hence floweth an utter indisposition and unfitness for duty.
12. Yea, and in some it may come to this height, that the thoughts of going about any commanded duty, especially of worship, either in public or private; or their minting and attempting to set about it, shall fill them with terror and affrightment, that they shall be constrained to forbear; yea, to lay aside all thoughts of going about any such duty.
This is a very dead-like condition, -- what can be the causes or occasions thereof?
I answer, (and this is the second particular,) some or all of these things may be considered as having a hand in this:
1. No care to keep up a tender frame of heart, but growing slack, loose, and careless, in going about Christian duties, may bring on such a distemper.
2. Slighting of challenges for omission of duties, or leaving duties over the belly of conscience, may make way for such an evil.
3. Giving way to carnality and formality in duties, is a ready mean to usher in this evil. For when the soul turns carnal or formal in the discharge of duties, duties have not that spiritual lustre which they had, and the soul becometh the sooner wearied of them, as seeing no such desirableness in them, nor advantage by them.
4. When people drown themselves in cares of the world, they occasion this deadness to themselves; for then duties not only are not gone about heartily, but they are looked on as a burden, and the man becometh weary of them; and from that he cometh to neglect them; and by continuing in the neglect of them, he contracteth an aversion of heart for them; and then an utter unfitness and indisposition for discharging of them followeth.
5. Satan hath an active hand here, driving on with his crafts and wiles from one step to another.
6. The hand also of a sovereign God is to be observed here, giving way to this, yea, and ordering matters in his justice and wisdom so, as such persons shall come under such an indisposition, and that for wise and holy ends; as, (1.) That by such a dispensation he may humble them, who possibly were puffed up before, as thinking themselves fit enough to go about any duty, how difficult or hazardous soever, as Peter, who boasted so of his own strength, as he thought nothing to lay down his life for Christ, and to die with him; and yet at length came to that, that he could not, or durst not speak the truth to a damsel. (2.) That he may punish one spiritual sin with another. (3.) To give warning to all to watch and pray, and to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and not to be high-minded, but fear. (4.) That thereby, in his just and righteous judgment, he may lay a stumbling-block before some, to the breaking of their neck, when they shall, for this cause, reject and mock at all religion. (5.) That he may give proof at length of his admirable skill in recovering from such a distemper, that no flesh might have ground to despair, in the most dead condition they can fall into. (6.) And to shew, sometimes, what a sovereign dispensator of life he is, and how free he is in all his favours.
As to the third particular, how Christ is life in this case,
We answer, 1. By keeping possession of the believer, even when he seemeth to be most dead; and keeping life at the root, when there is neither fruit appearing nor flourishes, and hardly many green leaves to evidence life.
2. By blowing at the coal of grace in the soul, in his own time and way, and putting an end to the winter, and sending the time of the singing of the birds, a spring time of life.
3. By loosing the bands with which he was held fast formerly, enlarging the heart with desires to go about the duty; so that now he willingly riseth up out of his bed of security, and cheerfully shaketh off his drowsiness and sluggishness, and former unwillingness; and now with willingness and cheerfulness he setteth about the duty.
4. By sending influences of life and strength into the soul, whereby the wheels of the soul are made to run with ease, being oiled with those divine influences.
5. And this he doth by touching the heart, and wakening it by his Spirit; as he raised the spouse out of her bed of security and laziness, by putting in his hand at the hole of the door, -- then were her bowels moved for him, Cant. v.4; and thus he setteth faith on work again, having the key of David to open the heart, Rev. iii.7.
6. By giving a discovery of the evil of their former ways and courses, he worketh up the heart to godly sorrow and remorse for what is done, making their bowels move for grief and sorrow, that they should so have dishonoured and grieved him.
7. By setting the soul thus on work to do what formerly it neither could nor would do; and thus he maketh the soul strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, Eph. vi.10, and able to run and not be weary, and to walk and not be faint, Isa. xl.
8. By discovering the great recompense of reward that is coming, and the great help they have at hand, in the covenant and promises thereof, and in Christ their head and Lord. He maketh the burden light and the duty easy.
As to the last particular, viz. how a believer, in such a case, should make use of Christ as the Life, that he may be delivered therefrom.
When the poor believer is any way sensible of this decay, and earnestly desiring to be from under that power of death, and in case to go about commanded duties, he should,
1. Look to Christ for enlightened eyes, that he may get a more thorough discovery of the hazard and wretchedness of such a condition, that hereby being awakened and alarmed, he may more willingly use the means of recovery, and be more willing to be at some pains to be delivered.
2. He should run to the blood of Jesus, to get the guilt of his bygone sinful ways washed away, and blotted out; to the end he may obtain the favour of God, and get his reconciled face shining upon him again.
3. He should eye Christ as a prince exalted to give repentance, that so his sorrow for his former sinful courses may be kindly, spiritual, thorough, and affecting the heart. He would cry to Christ, that he would put in his hand by the hole of the door, that his bowels may become moved for him.
4. He should also look to him as that good shepherd, who will strengthen that which is sick, Ezek. xxxiv.16. And take notice also of his other relations, and of his obligations thereby, and by the covenant of redemption; and this will strengthen his hope.
5. He should lay hold on Christ as his strength, whereby his feet may be made like hinds' feet, and he may be made to walk upon his high places, Hab. iii.19; and he would grip to that promise, Isa. xli.10, |I will strengthen thee;| and lay hold on Christ in it.
6. Having done thus, he should set about every commanded duty, in the strength of Jesus, looking to him for help and supply, from whom cometh all his strength, and though he should not find that help and assistance which he expected, yet he should not be discouraged, but continue, and when he can do no more, offer himself as ready and willing to go about the duty, as if he had strength.
7. He should lie open to, and be ready to receive the influences of strength, which he, who is the head, shall think good to give in his own time, manner, and measure; and this taketh in these duties:
(1.) That they should carefully guard against the evils formerly mentioned, which brought on this distemper; such as carelessness, untenderness, unwatchfulness, laziness, carnal security, formality, and want of seriousness, &c.
(2.) That they should beware of giving way to dispondency, or concluding the matter hopeless and irremediable; for that is both discouraging to the soul, and a tempting provocation of God.
(3.) That they should be exercising the grace of patient waiting.
(4.) That they should be waiting in the use of the appointed means, and thereby, as it were, rubbing the dead and cold member before the fire, till it gather warmth.
(5.) That they should be keeping all their sails up, waiting for the gale of the Spirit, that should make their ship sail.
(6.) That they should be looking to him alone, who hath promised that quickening Spirit; and patiently waiting his leisure, not limiting him to any definite time.
(7.) That they should be cherishing and stirring up any small beginnings that are.
(8.) That they should be welcoming most cheerfully every motion of the Spirit, and improving every advantage of that kind, and striking the iron when it is hot, and hold the wheels of the soul a-going, when they are once put in motion, and so be loath to grieve the good and holy Spirit of God, Eph. iv.30, or to quench his motions, 1 Thess. v.19.
If these duties were honestly minded and gone about, in him, and in his strength, none can tell how soon there may be a change wrought in the soul.
But if it be asked, what such can do, to whom the very thoughts of the duty, and aiming at it, is matter of terror;
Ans. It may be, something, if not much, of that may flow from a bodily distemper, as occasioneth the alteration of the body, upon the thorough apprehension of any thing that is weighty and of moment, so as they cannot endure to be much affected with any thing. But leaving this to others, I would advise such a soul to those duties:
1. To be frequently setting to the duty, as, for example, of prayer, though that should raise the distemper of their body, for through time that may wear away, or at least grow less; whileas, their giving way thereto, will still make the duty the more and more terrible, and so render themselves the more unfit for it, and thus they shall gratify Satan, who, it may be, may have a hand in that bodily distemper too. When the poor soul is thus accustomed or habituated to the attempting of the duty, it will at length appear not so terrible as it did; and so the body may become not so soon altered thereby as it was.
2. When such an one can do no more, he should keep his love to the duty, and his desires after it, fresh, and lively, and should not suffer these quite to die out.
3. He should be much in the use of frequent ejaculations, and of short supplications darted up to God; for these will not make such an impression on the body, and so will not so occasion the raising and wakening the bodily distemper, as more solemn addresses to God in prayer would possibly do.
4. If he cannot go to Christ with confidence, to draw out of him life and strength, according to his need, yet he may give a look to him, though it were from afar; and he may think of him, and speak of him frequently, and would narrowly observe every thing that pointeth him out, or bringeth any thing of him to remembrance.
5. Such souls should not give way to despairing thoughts, as if their case were wholly helpless and hopeless; for that is a reflecting on the power and skill of Christ, and therefore is provoking and dishonourable to him.
6. Let Christ, and all that is his, be precious always and lovely unto them. And thus they should keep some room in their heart open for him, till he should be pleased to come to them with salvation; and who can tell how soon he may come?
But enough of this. There is a fourth case of deadness to be spoken to, and that is,