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TIIE WILDERNESS STATE.
“ Ye now have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your
heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." John xvi. 22.
1. AFTER God had wrought a great deliverance for Israel, by bringing them out of the house of bondage, they did not immediately enter into the land which he had promised to their fathers; but “wandered out of the way in the wilderness," and were variously tempted and distressed. In like manner, after God has delivered them that fear him from the bondage of sin and Satan; after they are “justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus,” yet not many of them immediately enter into “ the rest which remaineth for the people of God.” The greater part of them wander, more or less, out of the good way into which he bath brought them, They come, as it were, into a “waste and howling desert," where they are variously tempted and tormented: And this, some, in allusion to the case of the Israelites, have termed, A Wilderness State.'
2. Certain it is, that the condition wherein these are, has a right to the tenderest compassion. They labour under an evil and sore disease; though one that is not commonly understood; and for this very reason it is the more difficult for them to find a remedy. Being in darkness themselves, they cannot be supposed to understand the nature of their own disorder; and few of their brethren, nay, perhaps, of their teachers, know either what their sickness is, or how to heal it. So much the more need there is to inquire, First, What is the Nature of this Disease ? Secondly, What is the Cause ? and, Thirdly, What is the Cure of it?
1. 1. And, First, What is the Nature of this Disease, into which so many fall after they have believed? Wherein docs it properly consist; and what are the genuine symptoms of it ? It properly consists in the loss of that Faith, which God once VOL. I. No. 13.
drought in their heart. They that are in the willerness, bare not vow that divine "cvidence," that satisfactory conviction, "of things not seen," which they once enjoyed. They have not now that invarid demonstration of the Spirit, which before enabled each of them to say, “The life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." The light of hearen docs not now! roline in their hearts,' neither do they “see Him that is invisible;" but darkness is again on the face of their souls, and blindness on the eyes of their understanding. The Spirit no longer "witnesses with their spirits, that they are the children of God;” neither does be contine is the Spirit of Adoption, “crying" in their Hearts, “Abla, Father." They have not now a sure trust in liis love, and a liberty of approaching him withi holy boldness. "Throneh he say me, yet will I trust in bim, is no more thic language of their heart; but they are shorn of their strength, and become weak and for! le-neider, even as other men.
2. Hence, SCC0141!", praereils the loss of Love; which camot but rise or fill, at the saine time, and in the same preportion, with time, living faith. Accordingly, they that are deprived of their faith, are the priveil of the love of God also. They canet CT SILT“Tri, thon lowest all things, thou knorrit that I love idee.” They are not now happy in God, as crery one is that truly loves him. They do not delight in him as inime pastat! " Sal the colour of his ointments.” Once, all tici! Shine Fän tilitellin', aid to the remembrance of
!!!!!!!!!!(!thieir desires are coled and dead, il 101 crly estilowitse. Joc is their love of God is vased cold, so
sro is also their love of their neighbour. They have noi Now that zeal for the souls of men, that lovging after their welfare, that ferreut, restless, active desire of their being reconcilio Ginci. Trych not feel tliose “ bowels of mercies' for the sheep that are 104, that truder “ compassion for the ignorant, and them that are out of the way.” Once they were “gentle luward al!!7.41!," becky instructing such as opposed the truth, and, “if any is overtaken in a fault, restoring such aur one in the spirit of niecis:" but, after a suspense, perhaps, of many days, ander begins to regain its power; vel, pcevishness and impatiche ihrust sore ai them, that they may fall; sud it is well if they are ont sometimes driver, even to “ render evil for evil, atid railing for railing."
3. In consequence of the loss of faith and love, follou's, thirdly, loss of joy in the lily Cibost. For if the loving cen
sciousness of pardon be no more, the joy resulting therefrom cannot remain. If the Spirit does not witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, the joy that flowed from the inward witness must also be at an end. And, in like manner, they who once “rejoiced with joy unspeakable,” “ in hope of the glory of God," now they are deprived of that "hope full of immortality,” are deprived of the joy it occasioned; as also of that which resulted from a consciousness of the love of God,” then “shed abroad in their hearts," For the cause being removed, so is the effect : the fountain being dammed np, those living waters spring no more, to refresh the thirsty soul,
4. With loss of faith, and love, and joy, there is also joined, fourtbly, the loss of that Peace, which once passed all understauding. That sweet tranquillity of mind, that composure of spirit, is gone. Painful doubt returns ; doubt, whether we ever did, and perhaps, whether we ever shall, believe. We begin to doubt, whether we ever did find in our hearts the real testimony of the Spirit; whether we did not rather deceive our own souls, and mistake the voice of nature for the voice of God; nay, and perhaps, whether we shall ever hear his voice, and find favour in his sight. And these doubts are again joined with servile fear, with that fear which hath torment. We fear the wrath of God, even as before we believed : we fear, lest we should be cast out of his presence; and thence sink again into that fear of death, from which we were before wholly delivered.
5. But even this is not all; for loss of peace is accompanied with loss of Power. We know every one who has peace with God, through Jesus Christ, has power over all sin. But whenever he loses the peace of God, he loses also the power over sin. While that peace remained, power also remained, even over the besetting sin, whether it were the sin of his nature, of his constitution, the sin of his education, or that of his profession ; yea, and over those evil tempers and desires, which, till then, he could not conquer.
Sin had then no more dominion over him ; but he hath now no more dominion over sin. He may struggle, indeed, but he cannot overcome; the crown is fallen from his head. His enemies again prevail over him, and more or less bring him into bondage. The glory is departed from him, even the kingdom of God which was in his beart. He is dispossessed of righteousness, as well as of peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
II. 1. Such is the nature of what many have termed, and not improperly, “The Wilderness State.” But the nature of it may be more fully understood by inquiring, Secondly, What are the Causes of it? These, indeed, are various. But I dare not rank among these the bare, arbitrary, sovereign Will of God. He “rejoiceth in the prosperity of his servants: he delightcth not to afflict or grieve the children of men." His invariable will is our sanctification, attended with "peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” These are his own frec gifts; and we are assured “the gists of God are,” on liis pari, " without repentance.” He never repeateth of what he hath given, or desires to withdrair theo from us. Therefore lie never deserts us, as some speak; it is ie only that ilesort bim.
[1.] 2. The most usual cause of inward darkness is Sin, of one kind or another. This it is which generally occasions what is often a complication of sin and misery. And, tirst, Sin of Commission. This may freciently be observed to darken the soul in a moment; especially if it be a kuon, a wilful, or presumptuous sin. !!, for instance, a person, who is now walking in the clear liglii of God's countenance, should be any way prevailed on to commit a single act of drunkenness, or uncleaness, it would be no wonder, if, in that very bour, he fell into utter darkness. It is true', there have been some very rare cases, wherein Gesi les prereuted this, by an extraordimary display of his personing mercy, almost in the very instant. Bet in Scheril, su li su abuse of the goodness of God, sogress an in on his like, cessions an immediate estrangement from God, and iz "darkuess that may be felt."
3. Put it may be boped this case is not very frequent; that there are not a, Wim despise the riches of his goodne", as, Wile the link ini diis light, so grossly, and presumptuous in reductasaisit liim. Tu lisht is much more frequentis lo, by girl to Sirs of Omission. This, indeed, does not immediatel; quen the Spirit, but gradually and slowly. The former may be compared to pouring water upos a fire; the latter to wirawing the fuel from it. And many times will that loving spirit reprove our neglect, before he departs from 115. My are the inward checks, the secret Botices he gives, breve his influences are withdrawn. So that ruly a train cui woni ingi, wilfully persisted in, can bring 115 pionilerin vücu.
1. i 07,75 Pins rotatinium vzore frequently occasious rin tim me limlect od Print Payer; the want whereut cannot be supplied by any other ordinance whatever. Nothing can be niore plain, than that the life of God in the soul does not continue, much less increase, unless we use all opportunities of communion with God, and pouring out our hearts before him. If, therefore, we are negligent of this, if we suffer business, company, or any avocation whatever, to prevent these sccret exercises of the soul, (or, which comes to the same thing, to make us hurry them over in a slight and careless manner,) that life will surely decay. And if we long or frequently intermit them, it will gradually die away.
5. Another sin of omission, which frequently brings the soul of a believer into darkness, is the neglect of what was so strongly enjoined, even under the Jewish dispensation: “Thou shalt, in any wise, rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him : Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.” Now if we do hate our brother in our heart, if we do not rebuke him, when we sce him in a fault, but suffer sin upon him, this will soon bring leanness into our own soul; seeing hereby we are partakers of his sin. By neglecting to reprove, our neighbour, we make his sin our own : we become accountable for it to God: we saw his danger, and gave bim no warning: so, “if he perish in his iniquity,” God may justly require “his blood at our hands.” No wonder then, if by thus grieving the Spirit, we losc the light of his countenance.
6. A third cause of our losing this is, the giving way to some kind of Joward Sin. For example: We know, every one that is proud in heart, is an abomination to the Lord;” and that, although this pride of heart should not appear in the outward conversation. Now how easily may a soul, filled with peace and joy, fall into this snart of the Devil ? How natural is it for him to imagine, that he has more grace, more wisdom or strength, than he really has? To “think more highly of himself than he ought to think?” How natural to glory in something he has received, as if he had not received it? But sceing God continually “resisteth the proud, and giveth grace only to the humble,” this must certainly obscure, if not wholly destroy, the light which before shone on his heart.
7. The same effect may be produced by giving place to Anger, whatever the provocation or occasion be; yea, though it were coloured over with the name of zeal for the truth, or for the glory of God. Indeed, all zeal, which is any other than the flame of love, is “earthly, animal, and devilish.” It is the flame of wrath : it is flat, sinsul angcr, ncither better nor