John Newton (1725-1807): Of The Lord’s Promised Guidance

Of The Lord’s Promised Guidance
John Newton (1725-1807)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Answer to the Question, In what manner are we to expect the Lord’s promised Guidance to influence our Judgments, and direct our Steps in the Path of Duty?

            Dear Sir,

It is well for those who are duly sensible of their own weakness and fallibility, and of the difficulties with which they are surrounded in life, that the Lord has promised to guide his people with his eye, and to cause them to hear a word behind them, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it,” when they are in danger of turning aside, either to the right hand or to the left. For this purpose, he has given us the written word to be a lamp to our feet, and encouraged us to pray for the teaching of his Holy Spirit, that we may rightly understand and apply it. It is, however, too often seen, that many widely deviate from the path of duty, and commit gross and perplexing mistakes, while they profess a sincere desire to know the will of God, and think they have his warrant and authority. This must certainly be owing to misapplication of the rule by which they judge, since the rule itself is infallible, and the promise sure. The Scripture cannot deceive us, if rightly understood; but it may, if perverted, prove the occasion of confirming us in a mistake. The Holy Spirit cannot mislead those who are under his influence; but we may suppose that we are so, when we are not. It may not be unseasonable to offer a few thoughts upon a subject of great importance to the peace of our minds, and to the honour of our holy profession.

Many have been deceived as to what they ought to do, or in forming a judgment beforehand of events in which they are nearly concerned, by expecting direction in ways which the Lord has not warranted. I shall mention some of the principal of these, for it is not easy to enumerate them all.

Some persons, when two or more things have been in view, and they could not immediately determine which to prefer; have committed their case to the Lord by prayer, and have then proceeded to cast lots: taking it for granted, that after such a solemn appeal, the turning up of the lot might be safely rested in as an answer from God. It is true, the Scripture, and indeed right reason, assures us, that the Lord disposes the lot; and there are several cases recorded in the Old Testament, in which lots were used by divine appointment; but I think neither these, nor the choosing Matthias by lot to the apostleship, are proper precedents for our conduct. In the division of the lands of Canaan, in the affair of Achan, and in the nomination of Saul to the kingdom, recourse was had to lots by God’s express command. The instance of Matthias likewise was singular, such as can never happen again; namely, the choice of an apostle, who would not have been upon a par with the rest, who were chosen immediately by the Lord, unless He had been pleased to interpose in some extraordinary way; and all these were before the canon of Scripture was completed, and before the full descent and communication of the Holy Spirit, who was promised to dwell with the church to the end of time. Under the New Testament dispensation, we are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace, to make our requests known to the Lord, and to cast our cares upon him: but we have neither precept nor promise respecting the use of lots; and to have recourse to them without his appointment, seems to be tempting him rather than honouring him, and to savour more of presumption than dependence. The effects likewise of this expedient have often been unhappy and hurtful: a sufficient proof how little it is to be trusted to as a guide of our conduct.

Others, when in doubt, have opened the Bible at a venture, and expected to find something to direct them in the first verse they should cast their eye upon. It is no small discredit to this practice, that the Heathens, who knew not the Bible, used some of their favourite books in the same way: and grounded their persuasions of what they ought to do, or of what should befall them, according to the passage they happened to open upon. Among the Romans, the writings of Virgil were frequently consulted upon those occasions; which gave rise to the well-known expression of the Sortes Virgilanæ.

And indeed Virgil is as well adapted to satisfy inquirers in this way, as the Bible itself; for if people will be governed by the occurrence of a single text of Scripture, without regarding the context, or duly comparing it with the general tenor of the word of God, and with their own circumstances, they may commit the greatest extravagances, expect the greatest impossibilities, and contradict the plainest dictates of common sense, while they think they have the word of God on their side. Can the opening upon (2 Sam. vii. 3. when Nathan said unto David, “Do all that is in thine heart, for the Lord is with thee,” be sufficient to determine the lawfulness or expediency of actions? Or can a glance of the eye upon our Lord’s words to the woman of Canaan, Matt. XV. 28. “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” amount to a proof, that the present earnest desire of the mind, (whatever it may be,) shall be surely accomplished? Yet it is certain that matters big with important consequences have been engaged in, and the most sanguine expectations formed, upon no better warrant than dipping, (as it is called,) upon a text of Scripture.

A sudden strong impression of a text, that seems to have some resemblance to the concern upon the mind, has been accepted by many as an infallible token that they were right, and that things would go just as they would have them: or, on the other hand, if the passage bore a threatening aspect, it has filled them with fears and disquietudes, Much they have afterwards found were groundless and unnecessary. These impressions, being more out of their power than the former method, have been more generally regarded and trusted to, but have frequently proved no less delusive. It is allowed, that such impressions of a precept or a promise, as humble, animate, or comfort the soul, by giving it a lively sense of the truth contained in the words, are both profitable and pleasant; and many of the Lord’s people have been instructed and supported, (especially in a time of trouble,) by some seasonable word of grace applied and sealed by his Spirit with power to their hearts. But if impressions or impulses are received as a voice from heaven, directing to such particular actions as could not be proved to be duties without them, a person may be unwarily misled into great evils and gross delusions; and many have been so. There is no doubt but the enemy of our souls, if permitted, can furnish us with Scriptures in abundance in this way, and for these purposes.

Some persons judge of the nature and event of their designs, by the freedom which they find in prayer. They say they commit their ways to God, seek his direction, and are favoured with much enlargement of spirit; and therefore they cannot doubt but what they have in view is acceptable in the Lord’s sight. I would not absolutely reject every plea of this kind, yet, without other corroborating evidence, I could not admit it in proof of what it is brought for. It is not always easy to determine when we have spiritual freedom in prayer. Self is deceitful; and when our hearts are much fixed and bent upon a thing, this may put words and earnestness into our mouths. Too often we first secretly determine for ourselves, and then come to ask counsel of God; in such a disposition we are ready to catch at every thing that may seem to favour our darling scheme; and the Lord, for the detection and chastisement of our hypocrisy, (for hypocrisy it is, though perhaps hardly perceptible to ourselves,) may answer us according to our idols; see Ezek. xiv. 3, 4. Besides, the grace of prayer may be in exercise, when the subject-matter of the prayer may be founded upon a mistake, from the intervention of circumstances which we are unacquainted with. Thus I may have a friend in a distant country, I hope he is alive, I pray for him, and it is my duty so to do. The Lord, by his Spirit, assists his people in what is their present duty. If I am enabled to pray with much liberty for my distant friend, it may be a proof that the Spirit of the Lord is pleased to assist my infirmities, but it is no proof that my friend is certainly alive at the time I am praying for him; and if the next time I pray for him I should find my spirit straightened, I am not to conclude that my friend is dead, and therefore the Lord will not assist me in praying for him any longer.

Once more: A remarkable dream has sometimes been thought as decisive as any of the foregoing methods of knowing the will of God. That many wholesome and seasonable admonitions have been received in dreams, I willingly allow; but, though they may be occasionally noticed, to pay a great attention to dreams, especially to be guided by them, to form our sentiments, conduct, or expectations, upon them, is superstitious and dangerous. The promises are not made to those who dream, but to those who watch.

Upon the whole, though the Lord may give to some persons, upon some occasions, a hint or encouragement out of the common way; yet expressly to look for and seek his direction in such things as I have mentioned, is unscriptural and ensnaring. I could fill many sheets with a detail of the inconveniences and evils which have followed such a dependence, within the course of my own observation. I have seen some presuming they were doing God service, while acting in contradiction to his express commands. I have known others infatuated to believe a lie, declaring themselves assured, beyond the shadow of a doubt, of things which, after all, never came to pass; and when at length disappointed, Satan has improved the occasion to make them doubt of the plainest and most important truths, and to account their whole former experience a delusion. By these things weak believers have been stumbled, cavils and offenses against the Gospel multiplied, and the ways of truth evil spoken of.

But how then may the Lord’s guidance be expected? After what has been premised negatively, the question may be answered in a few words. In general, he guides and directs his people, by affording them, in answer to prayer, the light of his Holy Spirit, Which enables them to understand and to love the Scriptures. The word of God is not to be used as a lottery; nor is it designed to instruct us by shreds and scraps, which, detached from their proper places, have no determinate import; but it is to furnish us with just principles, right apprehensions to regulate our judgments and affections, and thereby to influence and direct our conduct. They who study the Scriptures, in an humble dependence upon divine teaching, are convinced of their own weakness, are taught to make a true estimate of every thing around them, are gradually formed into a spirit of submission to the will of God, discover the nature and duties of their several situations and relations in life, and the snares and temptations to which they are exposed. The word of God dwells richly in them, is a preservative from error, a light to their feet, and a spring of strength and consolation. By treasuring up the doctrines, precepts, promises, examples, and exhortations of Scripture, in their minds, and daily comparing themselves with the rule by which they walk, they grow into an habitual frame of spiritual wisdom, and acquire a gracious taste, which enables them to judge of right and wrong with a degree of readiness and certainty, as a musical ear judges of sounds. And they are seldom mistaken, because they are influenced by the love of Christ, which rules in their hearts, and a regard to the glory of God, which is the great object they have in view.

In particular cases, the Lord opens and shuts for them, breaks down walls of difficulty which obstruct their path, or hedges up their way with thorns, when they are in danger of going wrong, by the dispensations of his providence. They know that their concernments are in his hands; they are willing to follow whither and when he leads; but are afraid of going before him. Therefore they are not impatient: because they believe, they will not make haste, but wait daily upon him in prayer; especially when they find their hearts most engaged in any purpose or pursuit, they are most jealous of being deceived by appearances, and dare not move further or faster than they can perceive his light shining upon their paths. I express at least their desire, if not their attainment: thus they would be. And though there are seasons when faith languishes, and self too much prevails, this is their general disposition; and the Lord, whom they serve, does not disappoint their expectations. He leads them by a right way, preserves them from a thousand snares, and satisfies them that he is and will be their guide even unto death.

I am, &c.


B.W. Newton (1807-1899): The Second Advent not Secret but in Manifested Glory

The Second Advent not Secret but in Manifested Glory
Benjamin Wills Newton (1807-1899)
Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch.  Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: B.W. Newton was a member of the Plymouth Brethren along with J.N. Darby.  J.N. Darby was the sponsor of the doctrine of the “Rapture” put forth in the 1830’s.  B.W. Newton’s rebuttal to this doctrine is below.

The Second Advent not Secret but in Manifested Glory

Will the Second Advent of our Lord and Saviour for which we wait, be secret, or in manifested glory? Will it terminate the age of human evil, or will evil still reign and triumph after it? Until the 19th century there had been in the true Church of God a happy unanimity in answering these questions. In the midst of all the disagreements which have so grievously marred, and, to a great extent, nullified the testimonies of Christ’s people, they have not on this point differed. They have all with one voice affirmed that when our High Priest returns “without sin, unto salvation,” He will return in manifested glory. Behold He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.” “He shall come in His own glory and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” None doubted that these and like texts describe the approaching Advent of our Lord-that Advent for which all His people are commanded to watch. It is, no doubt, possible that we may all have been deceived. We are not like the Apostles, inspired and infallible. Apart from the Apostles, the concurrent assent of all the saints in earth has no authoritative value. Vie have no test of Truth except the Scripture. Nevertheless, a doctrine so truly new as the secret coming of the Lord, and the secret removal of His saints, must, by its very novelty, awake suspicion, and should therefore be jealously tested by the Scripture of Truth. With respect to this, and all other doctrines proposed to our acceptance, we appeal “to the law and to the testimony.” Every thing that disagreeth therewith is not of light, but of darkness.

1 Thessalonians, ch. 4: 13-18.

Let us refer, then, first, to the Epistles. The fourth chapter of the first of Thessalonians reveals the instrumentality by which the saints who sleep are to be raised, and the living saints changed. “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: afterward (epeita) we who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

Can we, after reading these words, affirm that the coming of the Lord will be secret? Do such expressions as “shout,” “voice of the archangel,and “trump of God,” imply secrecy? What expressions could be chosen to denote universality of manifestation if these do not? Nor is the sphere of this manifestation to be above the heavens. There, indeed, it might be hidden from mortal view. But heavenly places (ta epourania) are not to be the scene of this manifestation. It is not said that the Lord will descend from that place of glory which He now occupieth, “high above all heavens,” and that He will descend into lower heavens and there receive His saints above the skies. On the contrary, it is said that He shall descend from heaven into “the air.” The air is the atmosphere that surrounds the earth in close contiguity thereunto, and is a part of this sublunary creationcontrasted, therefore, with the firmament, and all that is above the firmament. It is in the air” that the saints are to meet their Lord. Nor will they meet Him merely. The word translated meet,” means to meet*

* Eis apantesitt. See its use in Acts 28: 15, where the brethren went to meet Paul at Appii Forum as he was proceeding towards Rome, and accompanied him thence to Rome. ••This expression occurs twice in the New Testament, and each time implies meeting one who was approachingnot merely meeting with a person.Alford.

and to come with the person whom we meet. We are to meet Him in that day of His glory in order that we may accompany Him to the place to which He is going. It will be the day of visitation to Israel and to the earth. He will proceed from the air to the earth: and His feet shall stand on it. His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives” (Zech. 14). He will stand there as the Refiner indeed and Purifier of Israel, but also as their Deliverer. He will come as the Destroyer of His and their enemies who will at that moment be found under Antichrist, gathered in the valley of Jehoshaphat, there to be trodden in the winepress of wrath. His saints shall be with Him when He thus stands on Olivet, for it is written, “the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints “with thee.Thus, in the same day (for it shall be one day known unto the Lord”) He will come for His saints (for they are caught up to meet Him in the air) and He will come with His saints, for from the air they accompany Him to Olivet. Their glory (for they will all be glorified like their Lord) will add to the brightness of the day of His glory: they will meet with Him His enemies (Rev. 17) whom sudden destruction shall overwhelm the appointed work of judgment will be wrought, and the stricken, but not destroyed, earth, will be taken under the care and government of Christ, with whom His saints will be associated. They will meet Him in the air; thence for a brief time they will accompany Him to earth while there He doth His work, His strange work; and brings to pass His act, His strange actHis act of judgment. But as soon as that is accomplished, they will ascend with Him into heaven, their home and His home thence (as “the saints of the high placesand the host of the heavens,” names given to them in Daniel) to reign with Christ over all things.

The Parousia.

This branch of the subject, however, we will for the present leave. For a moment I turn aside to advert to an argument which, although often refuted, is still extensively used, and perplexes the minds of many. It is asserted that the Scripture marks as two distinct events, the Coming (parousia) of the Lord, and His Epiphany or manifestation. The Scripture, it is said, recognises believers as remaining on the earth until “the Coming” (parousia) of the Lord, and we are commanded to wait for “His Coming”; but for His Epiphany (say they) we are not to wait, because we are to be removed at His Coming, which is long to precede His Epiphany. Such is the statement. It is a very intelligible statement. But is it true?

Its truth may easily be tested. If it were true, we should be unable to point out one single passage of Scripture that recognises believers as remaining on the earth until either “the Epiphany,” or “the manifestation,” or “the revelation” of the Lord: three distinct expressions, all used in the Scripture, and all equally implying publicity. If we are to be removed from the earth before the Epiphany of Christ, it is evident that the Scripture can no where either state or imply that we are to remain in the earth until the Epiphany. If we can point out one passage that speaks of believers being in the earth until the Epiphany, the whole argument is disproved, and the system connected with it falls.

Let us turn, then, to the first Epistle to Timothy. There we find these words: “keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the Epiphany (epiphaneias) of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in His times He shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6: 14). This passage does of itself determine the question. It proves that we are to remain in the earth until the Epiphany, for it is very obvious that we should not be charged to observe the commandment given in this Epistle UNTIL the Epiphany,” if we were to be removed before the Epiphany.

Again, in 1 Thess. 1: 6, the Apostle expressly speaks of the period at which God will grant “rest” or relief” (anesin) from suffering, to His tried and persecuted saints. Does He say that it is to be granted previously to the time when the Lord is revealed in glory? No. He says expressly that it is to be grantedWHEN the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire taking vengeance.” Nothing can be more precise and determinate than the words of this passage. Shall we after reading it still venture to affirm that the saints will be removed into their rest before the revelation of the Lord in glory?

In Publicity and Glory.

Nor is there throughout the Scripture one passage that does not harmonise with these texts. The Scriptures both of the Old and New Testaments, with one voice, bid us expect the coming of our Lord in manifested glory. Sometimes it is called “the corning,” sometimes the” revelation,”sometimes “the Epiphany” or “appearing,“-sometimes the “manifestation” of the Lord. The terms vary, but they all, either because of the context, or in virtue of their own signification, designate an Advent in visible glory. The first place in the New Testament in which the word “coming” is found as applied to the Second Advent of our Lord, is Matthew 24. There the disciples asked, “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the age?and there the Lord, after telling them that a period of brief but unequalled tribulation in the land of Israel is to be the immediate precursor and sign of His “coming,” goes on to say that His coming” will not be secret but as the lightning. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: Behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the Corning of the Son of man be.” Will anyone after reading this passage venture to affirm that the word” comingis appropriated in the Scripture to a secret Advent of the Lord, and that His Advent precedes the time of the unequalled tribulation? If we are commanded to wait for His coming, we are at the same time told that that coming is to be as “the lightning shining from the east unto the west.” Can any words be more determinately expressive of diffused manifestation? They are in strict accordance with the words already quoted from the Thessalonians. “He shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God.”

In 1 Cor. 1: 7, rightly translated, the Corinthians are described as waiting for the revelation (apokalupsin) of the Lord.” “Revelation” is a word that emphatically indicates manifestation. It implies the drawing aside or removal of everything that veils or hides, and therefore it is always opposed to concealment or secrecy, as in the following passage: “there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed.Were the Corinthians blamed by the Apostle because they waited for the revelation of the Lord? Were they told that they should wait, not for His revelation, but for His coming, as if they were distinct events? No. They were praised because they waited for his “revelation.” It was spoken of as an evidence of the grace that had been given them.

As the Sun Rise.

In 1 John 3: 2, we read, ” Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” The word “appear” is sufficiently indicative of manifestation. “When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.” But a stronger word than “appearis used in the passage. The meaning of ephanerothe the word here used is ”to be manifested.” “It is not yet manifested what we shall be; but we know that when He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Can any words more simply declare that the time when we are to be changed into the likeness of our Lord and to see Him as He is, is the time of His manifestation, and not a period antecedent thereunto? In another passage (2 Tim. 4: 8), we find the saints described as those who love their Lord’s Epiphany,” because that Epiphany brings them their long hoped for rest, and joy, and glory. To wait for His “coming,” therefore, is the same thing as waiting for His glorious Epiphany.

I have already referred to 1 Thess. 4: The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God,” as words that in the fullest sense indicate manifestation. But what is the immediate result of this manifestation? In the first place, all who have fallen asleep in Christ, from Abel downwards, arise in glory. Millions of saints, evena multitude whom no man can number of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues,” shall suddenly rise from their graves glorified according to the glory of their Lord, and so be presented to the trembling and astonished eyes of men. “The dead in Christ shall rise first.” The living saints, too, shall in the twinkling of an eye be changed. And afterwards (for “afterwards[epeita] is the word used, indicating a certain interval however brief)afterwards the changed and the raised saints together, shall be caught up in the clouds (the angels having been sent to gather them, Matthew 13: 41 and 24: 31) to meet and to come with their Lord. Can there be this display of the Lord’s glory, and of the angels’ glory, and of the saints’ glory, and yet the earth be ignorant that the hour of its visitation has come? When at the midnight hour the light which Gideon’s host had hidden, was suddenly set free from its earthen prison, was its brightness concealed? Did it not flash terror into the hearts of all the hosts of Midian? So shall it be also when, in the saints, mortality shall be swallowed up of life: when the light that has been so long time hidden in them as earthen vessels (for Christ is in them the hope of glory) shall suddenly shine forth in its brightness and confront those mighty ones of the earth whoshall have been gathered to “the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”

The End of the Age.

Moreover, the saints are not to be removed until “the end of the age.” This is sufficiently proved by the parting words of our Lord: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.” The Lord could not have said that He would be with His servants until the end of the age,” if they were to be removed from the earth before the end of the age.And He has Himself defined “the end of the age” to be the period when He will send forth His angels to separate those who nominally profess His name, from those who are in truth His people. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be at the end of this age. The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom (Christendom) all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

It is very evident from this passage, that when the saints (the wheat) are removed from the earth, all who nominally profess the name of Christ (the tares) are at the same moment removed also, so that Christendomall Christendom, suddenly ceases to exist at the very moment when the saints are taken from the earth. Could this take place secretly? Could the world be unconscious of, or unaffected by, such an event as the disappearance of the whole of Christendom? Even if there were to be no display of the glory of Christ, or of the angels, or of the saints, yet how marvellous and astounding a sight to behold all Christendom suddenly vanish. Will it not be so when the wheat and tares are reaped?

If then we were to adopt the doctrines of this strange theory, we should be obliged to say that Antichrist, whose history constitutes the leading feature in the last days of this present age, is not revealed until after the age has terminated. For if (as is asserted) the saints are to be removed from earth before Antichrist is revealed, and if (as we know from Scripture) they will not be taken till the end of the age (Matt. 13) when “wheat and tares” are both removed, and Christendom ceases to exist, it is obvious that if we adopt the supposition referred to, we must say that Antichrist is to be revealed after Christendom has ceased to exist, and after the age of evil in which he is to act is ended. Will anyone, on reflection, affirm this?

Christendom and the Nations.

It is very evident that if Antichrist is not to be revealed until after the wheat and tares have been removed, he never will be revealed at all: for the greater part of the Ten Kingdoms of the Roman World which will form the very basis and strength of his power, are at present a part of the wheat and tares” – field. At present they form a part of Christendom, and so will continue until they are by him seduced from their professed allegiance to Christ. Antichrist is he who will detach the Roman World (ten oikoumenen) from Christendom. If therefore Antichrist is not to arise until after “the wheat and tareshave been removed, the Ten Kingdoms will not have been detached from Christendom at the time when Christendom ends, and therefore will pass away with it. In that case it would be impossible for Antichrist to take the headship of the Roman World, because the greater part thereof as well as the whole of the rest of Christendom would have ceased to exist before he appears. It is, therefore, impossible that the apostasy of the Ten Kingdoms of the Roman World under Antichrist should be subsequent to the resurrection of the saints. The Scripture again and again reiterates that the resurrection of the saints takes place not before his rise, but at the time of his destruction. The Scripture too uniformly connects the resurrection and glory of the Church of the first-born oneswith the hour when the veil shall be taken from the heart of Israel, and they shall know the Lord”: and that will not be until Antichrist, and all in which unregenerate man has hitherto glorified, shall have sunk, never to rise again. See Dan. 12: l.

Very important light is often afforded by the quotations made by the Apostles from the Old Testament Scriptures.

The Time of the First Resurrection.

Thus in 1 Cor. 15 after speaking of our final change, whenin the twinkling of an eye this corruptible shall put on incorruption,the Apostle adds, “THEN shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.These words are a quotation from Isaiah 2Sa chapter altogether devoted to the description of the joy and triumph of forgiven Israel in the day when they shall say, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us; this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.In the midst of the enumeration of the honours and blessings of Israel in that day, these words, ” death is swallowed up in victory,suddenly occur. They insert, so to speak, the words of the Apostle in the Corinthians into the midst of the twenty-fifth of Isaiah. They connect the hour of our resurrection with the day of Israel‘s forgiveness. They teach us that the day of the glorification of the heavenly branch of the Israel of God, so far from being the time when the earthly Israel is delivered over to Antichrist and abomination, is on the contrary the hour of Zion’s triumph, the hour when God will receive the spared of Israel into recognised and everlasting forgiveness. The day of the receiving back of Israel and of their restoration to their “olive tree,is always spoken of in the Scripture as a day especially honoured of the Lord. The resurrection of the Church of the firstborn ones” will be part of the honour of that day.

“If the casting away of them (Israel) be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” (zot ek nekron). The Church of the first-born-ones will rise as ... the first-fruits,” showing the character of that heavenly glory to which all the believing House of Israel shall finally be conformed. We can easily understand, therefore, why the time when in us mortality is to be swallowed up of life, should be referred to as it is in the twenty-fifth of Isaiah.

In Isaiah 26 also, where Israel are addressed with reference to the day of their forgiveness, we again find the resurrection of the saints referred to. “Thy dead (the dead saints of Israel) ... shall live: my dead body, they shall arise: for thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall cast out her dead.If the chapter in which these words occur be examined, it will be seen in what close relation the resurrection of Christ’s mystical body (“my dead body,as He is pleased to call His sleeping saints) stands to the day of Israels joy.

In Dan. 12 also, the resurrection of the saints is thus plainly referred to. “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life . . . and they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” But when is this to be? Is it at the time when Antichrist is about to rise, and Israel to be delivered over to him and to abomination? No. It is the time when the career of Antichrist (see Dan. 11) shall be finishedwhen “he shall have come to his end, and none shall help him.” THEN it is that Michael will stand up to deliver Israel; THEN it is the sleeping saints will awake to life, and shine as the brightness of the firmament for ever. The Scripture everywhere delights to bring into closest connexion these two eventsthe glorification of the heavenly branch and the forgiveness of the earthly branch of the one Israel of God. The notion that Zion is to become the sphere of Antichrist’s glory, and Jerusalem the sphere of his abominations after the resurrection of the saints, is a thought contradicted by every part of Scripture.

At the Last Trump.

It would indeed be a strange result of the sounding of “the last Trump” – that Trumpet which is to indicate the establishment in the earth in connexion with Israel of that new covenant of grace under which Israel and the nations are to be manifestly blessedit would be a strange thing if that Trumpet which is to announce to Israel and the earth that the day of man has ended, and the day of the Lord come, should be followed by the triumph of human evil under Antichrist, and by the giving over of Israel and the leading nations of the earth to wickedness and blasphemy! Yet this must be so, if Antichrist is to be revealed after the saints are glorified at the sounding of the “last Trump.But it is not so. The day on which that Trumpet sounds shall be the day on which there shall come out of Zion the deliverer and turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” Never after the day on which the saints rise, will Zion be made the home-much less the throne, of evil. It will be recognised and rejoiced in as the mountain of the Lord where He will make to all peoples a feast of fat things, and destroy the veil that at present rests upon the nations and manifest Zion in all those connexions of glory to which Psalm 68: 15; Heb. 12: 22; and Rev. 14: 1, refer. Such will be the condition of glory that awaits Zion as soon as the Trumpet sounds and calls “the Church of the firstbornonesinto their heavenly glory. The first resurrection, and the forgiveness of Israel, and the making on Zion for all nations a feast of fat things,” are consecutive and connected links in the one golden chain of blessing.

We are taught in the Acts, that the Lord Jesus is to remain in heaven until the times of restitution of all that God hath promised by the mouth of all His holy prophets.” How could this be true if the coming of the Lord Jesus from heaven is to be followed, not by “the times of restitution,” but by the glory of Antichrist? There is little likeness between the day of Antichrist, and the times of restitution.

Again, in Psalm 110, we read: “Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I shall have set thy foes a footstool for thy feet.How could this be true if when the Lord descends from heaven into the air, instead of finding His foes set as a footstool before Him, He were to find Israel and the nations about to enter on their last career of evil under Antichrist? The triumph of evil is not the same thing as its destruction.

Again, we read in the Revelation that among the saints who rise in the first resurrection, are especially mentioned those who have “not worshiped the Beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark.How could this be true if the first resurrection were to take place before Antichrist, and his image, and name were known? There cannot be two first resurrections.

Questions such as these might be almost indefinitely multiplied; but I forbear. All such difficulties vanish the moment we receive the truth again and again declared in Scripture, that the day of Israels forgiveness is that on which the saints of past dispensations will rise in glory” a firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” The day on which the cankered Gentile olive branch (that which we now call Christendom) is broken out of the Olive tree, because it has not continued in God’s goodnessthat self-same day shall see Israel grafted back into their own Olive tree. The day on which all Christ’s true saints shall be translated from the earthly into the heavenly branch of the kingdom of God, shall see Israel brought into the earthly branch of that Kingdom. Whilst the earth remains, the Olive tree shall never lack branches, nor the Kingdom of heaven, subjects.

Watch the Signs

If we watch the signs of the times, we cannot suppose that the reign of Antichristian infidelity is very distant. Latitudinarianism is fast destroying the barriers which revelation has reared against the licentiousness of human thought; and when those barriers have been destroyed, that which the Scripture terms lawlessness” (anomia) must be the result: and lawlessness is to be headed up in the Lawless one (ho anomos). To him the whole Roman World, Eastern and Western, will give its glory. That part of the earth, therefore, which hitherto has been and which will be, till the end of the age,the home and the centre of civilization the spring and the pivot of the world‘s energies, will become utterly APOSTATE. It will utterly reject God as revealed in Christ: God as the Jehovah of Israel: and God as the Creator. The patience of God will wait until Antichrist and the nations who are with him (see Psalm 83) shall say of Israel, “Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.” He will wait until that nation which He has chosen to show forth His praise in the earth, shall be in the very jaws of the devouring lion, but then He will wait no longer. The time of recompense for the controversies of Zion will have come. The throne of the Ancient of days will be set in heaven. He will sit in solemn inquisition on the nations who have given themselves to Antichrist and to Apostasy. Sentence will be passed upon them. The Son of man will be brought before the Ancient of days and invested with that administrative power over the nations which, till then, has been delegated to man. Voices shall be heard in heaven, saying, “The sovereignty of the world hath become the sovereignty of our Lord and of His Christ.Christ formally assumes (Dan. 7) the government of Israel and of the earth, and so the Day of Christ begins. It begins not in earth but in heaven: for it is in heaven, not on earth, that the Son of man is brought before the Ancient of days, and there, unseen by mortal eyes, assumes His millennial power.

But He assumes it in order that He may cut short the reign of evil. He assumes it in order that He may inflict the sentence that had been pronounced in heaven upon the blasphemies of Antichrist and the Apostate nations. Instantly, therefore, the tokens that immediately precede His appearance in glory will be seen. “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roar of the sea and of the surge, men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” These signs may be regarded as concomitant with the time when the Son of man is invested in heaven with His millennial power. It is evident that they are the immediate precursors of the appearance of the Lord in glory, for as soon as they” begin to come to pass,” we are commanded to look up and lift our heads, because our redemption draweth nigh. The Lord, accompanied by the holy angels, will descend from heaven into the air. Thence He shall send forth His angels (Matt. 13 and 24); “tares and wheatwill be alike removed from the earth, and thus Christendom will end. All who profess His name, whether falsely or truly, will be taken from the earth: the latter changed and glorified, and caught up to meet Him in the air; thence to accompany Him to the earth. His feet will stand on Olivet; He will tread in the winepress of wrath His apostate adversaries: Israel shall be purged and forgiven, and the reign of Christ manifestly commence on earth. On the same day, therefore, He will come for and with His saints, who will then accompany Him to His heavenly home where the order of the heavenly branch of His kingdom and all connected with the heavenly city will be established, while scattered Israel is being regathered, partly by the instrumentality of the spared heathen nations, to their earthly city, preparatory to their receiving there the order and glory appointed for them as the regulating centre of the earth’s government.

Such in brief outline is the order of events clearly revealed in Scripture. If we watch, that is, observe the appointed signs (and there is no other way of watching in the sense in which watch is used in Scripture), we shall not indeed know either the day or the hour of the Lord’s appearing, but we shall know when it is near, even at the doors. Nothing can be more plain than the promise of our blessed Lord as to this. “So likewise ye when ye shall see all these things come to pass, know ye that it is near, even at the doors. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892): The Victory of Faith

The Victory of Faith
C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Victory of Faith

A Sermon

(No. 14)

Delivered on Sabbath Morning, March 18, 1855,


At Exeter Hall, Strand.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.1 John 5:4.

THE epistles of John are perfumed with love. The word is continually occurring. While the Spirit enters into every sentence. Each letter is thoroughly soaked and impregnated with this heavenly honey. If he speaks of God, his name must be love; are the brethren mentioned, he loves them; and even of the world itself, he writes, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” From the opening to the conclusion, love is the manner, love the matter, love the motive, and love the aim. We stand, therefore, not a little astonished, to find such martial words in so peaceful a writing; for I hear a sound of war. It is not the voice of love, surely, that says,” He that is born of God overcometh the world.” Lo, here are strife and battle. The word “overcometh” seems to have in it something of the sword and warfare; of strife and contention; of agony and wrestling; so unlike the love which is smooth and gentle, which hath no harsh words within its lips; whose mouth is lined with velvet; whose words are softer than butter; whose utterances are more easily flowing than oil. Here we have war—war to the knife; for I read “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world;” strife until death; battle throughout life; fighting with a certainty of victory. How is it that the same gospel which always speaks of peace, here proclaims a warfare? How can it be? Simply because there is something in the world which is antagonistic to love; there are principles abroad which cannot bear light, and, therefore, before light can come, it must chase the darkness. Ere summer reigns, you know, it has to do battle with old winter, and to send it howling away in the winds of March, and shedding its tears in April showers. So also, before any great or good thing can have the mastery of this world, it must do battle for it. Satan has seated himself on his blood-stained throne, and who shall get him down, except by main force, and fight and war? Darkness broods o’er the nations; nor can the sun establish his empire of light until he has pierced night with the arrowy sunbeams, and made it flee away. Hence we read in the Bible that Christ did not come to send peace on earth, but a sword; he came to set “the father against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;” not intentionally, but as a means to an end; because there must always be a struggle ere truth and righteousness can reign. Alas! for that earth is the battle-field where good must combat with evil Angels look on and hold their breath, burning to mingle in the conflict, but the troops of the Captain of Salvation may be none but the soldiers of the cross; and that slender band must fight alone, and yet shall triumph gloriously. Enough shall they be for conquest, and the motto of their standard is ENOUGH. Enough by the arm of the helping Trinity.

As God shall help me, I shall speak to you of three things to be found in the text. First, the text speaks of a great victory: it says, “This is the victory.” Secondly, it mentions a great birth: “Whatsoever is born of God.” And, thirdly, it extols a great grace, whereby we overcome the world, “even our faith.”

I. First, the text speaks of a GREAT VICTORY—the victory of victories—the greatest of all. We know there have been great battles where nations have met in strife, and one has overcome the other; but who has read of a victory that overcame the world? Some will say that Alexander was its conqueror; but I answer, nay. He was himself the vanquished man, even when all things were in his possession. He fought for the world, and won it; and then mark how it mastered its master, conquered its conquerer, and lashed the monarch who had been its scourge. See the royal youth weeping, and stretching out his hands with idiotic cries, for another world which he might ravage. He seemed, in outward show, to have overcome old earth; but, in reality, within his inmost soul, the earth had conquered him, had overwhelmed him, had wrapped him in the dream of ambition, girdled him with the chains of covetousness, so that when he had all, he was still dissatisfied; and, like a poor slave, was dragged on at the chariot wheels of the world, crying, moaning, lamenting, because he could not win another. Who is the man that ever overcame the world? Let him stand forward: he is a Triton among the minnows; he shall outshine Cæsar; he shall outmatch even our own lately departed Wellington, if he can say he has overcome the world. It is so rare a thing, a victory so prodigious, a conquest so tremendous, that he who can claim to have won it may walk among his fellows, like Saul, with head and shoulders far above them. He shall command our respect; his very presence shall awe us into reverence; his speech shall persuade us to obedience; and, yielding honour to whom honour is due, we’ll say when we listen to his voice, ”‘Tis even as if an angel shook his wings.”

I shall now attempt to expand the idea I have suggested, showing you in what varied senses the Christian overcomes the world. A tough battle, sirs, I warrant you: not one which carpet knights might win: no easy skirmish that he might win, who dashed to battle on some sunshiny day, looked at the host, then turned his courser’s rein, and daintily dismounted at the door of his silken tent—not one which he shall gain, who, hut a raw recruit to-day, puts on his regimentals, and foolishly imagines that one week of service will ensure a crown of glory. Nay, sirs, it is a life-long war—a fight needing the power of all these muscles, and this strong heart; a contest which shall want all our strength, if we are to be triumphant; and if we do come off more than conquerors, it shall be said of us, as Hart said of Jesus Christ: “He had strength enough and none to spare;” a battle at which the stoutest heart might quail; a fight at which the braves might shake, if he did not remember that the Lord is on his side, and therefore, whom shall he fear? He is the strength of his life; of whom shall he be afraid? This fight with the world is not one of main force, or physical might; if it were, we might soon win it; but it is all the more dangerous from the fact that it is a strife of mind, a contest of heart, a struggle of the spirit, a strife of the soul. When we overcome the world in one fashion, we have not half done our work; for the world is a Proteus, changing its shape continually; like the chameleon, it hath all the colours of the rainbow; and when you have worsted the world in one shape, it will attack you in another. Until you die, you will always have fresh appearances of the world to wrestle with. Let me just mention some of the forms in which the Christian overcomes the world.

I. He overcomes the world when it sets up itself as a legislator, wishing to teach him customs. You know the world has its old massive law book of customs, and he who does not choose to go according to the fashion of the world, is under the ban of society. Most of you do just as everybody else does, and that is enough for you. If you see so-and-so do a dishonest thing in business, it is sufficient for you that everybody does it. If ye see that the majority of mankind have certain habits, ye succomb, ye yield. Ye think, I suppose, that to march to hell in crowds, will help to diminish the fierce heat of the burning of the bottomless pit, instead of remembering that the more faggots the fiercer will be the flame. Men usually swim with the stream like a dead fish; it is only the living fish that goes against it. It is only the Christian who despises customs, who does not care for conventionalisms, who only asks himself the question, “Is it right or is it wrong? If it is right, I will be singular. If there is not another man in this world who will do it, I will do it; should a universal hiss go up to heaven, I will do it still; should the very stories of earth fly up, arid stone me to death, I will do it still; though they bind me to the stake, yet I must do it; I will be singularly right; if the multitude will not follow me, I will go without them, I will be glad if they will all go and do right as well, but if not, I will despise their customs; I care not what others do; I shall not be weighed by other men; to my own Master I stand or fall. Thus I conquer and overcome the customs of the world.” Fair world! she dresseth herself in ermine, she putteth on the robes of a judge, and she solemnly telleth you, “Man, you are wrong. Look at your fellows; see how they do. Behold my laws. For hundreds of years have not men done so? Who are you, to set yourself up against me?” And she pulls out her worm-eaten law-book, and turning over the musty pages, says, “See, here is an act passed in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and here is another law enacted in the days of Pharaoh. These must be right, because antiquity has enrolled them among her standard authorities. Do you mean to set yourself up and stand against the opinions of the multitude?” Yes, we do; we take the law-book of the world, and we burn it, as the Ephesians did their magic rolls; we take her deeds, and make them into waste paper; we rend her proclamation from the walls; we care not what others do; custom to us is a cobweb; we count it folly to be singular; but when to be singular is to be right, we count it the proudest wisdom; we overcome the world; we trample on her customs; we walk as a distinct people, a separate race, a chosen generation, a peculiar people. The Christian behaves in his dealings not as the laughing infidel insinuates, when he sneeringly describes Maw worm, as saying, “Boy, have you sanded the sugar?” “Yes, sir.” “Have you put the sloe-leaves in the tea?” “Yes, sir.” “Have you put red lead in the pepper?” “Yes, sir.” “Then come to prayers.” Christians do not do so; they say, “We know better; we cannot conform to the customs of the world. If we pray, we will also act, or else we are hypocrites, confounded hypocrites. If we go to the house of God, and profess to love him, we love him every where; we take our religion with us into the shop, behind the counter; into our offices; we must have it everywhere, or else God knows it is not religion at all.” Ye must stand up, then, against the customs of mankind. Albeit, this may be a three-million peopled city, ye are to come out and be separate, if ye would overcome the world.

2. We rebel against the world’s customs. And if we do so, what is the conduct of our enemy? She changes her aspect. “That man is a heretic; that man is a fanatic; he is a cant, he is a hypocrite,” says the world directly. She grasps her sword, she putteth frowns upon her brow, she scowleth like a demon, she girdeth tempests round about her, and she saith, “The man dares defy my government; he will not do as others do. Now I will persecute him. Slander! come from the depths of hell and hiss at him. Envy! sharpen up thy tooth and bite him.” She fetches up all false things, arid she persecutes the man. If she can, she does it with the hand; if not, by the tongue. She afflicts him wherever he is. She tries to ruin him in business; or, if he standeth forth as the champion of the truth why then she laugheth, arid mocketh, and scorneth. She lets no stone be unturned whereby she may injure him. What is then the behaviour of the Lord’s warrior, when he sees the world take up arms against him, and when he sees all earth, like an army, coming to chase him, and utterly destroy him? Does he yield? Does he yield? Does he bend? Does he cringe? Oh, no! Like Luther, he writes “Cedo nulli” on his banner—“I yield to none;” and he goes to war against the world, if the world goes to war against him.

“Let earth be all in arms abroad,

He dwells in perfect peace.”

Ah! some of you, if you had a word spoken against you, would at once give up what religion you have; but the true-born child of God cares little for man’s opinion. “Ah,” says he, “let my bread fail me, let me be doomed to wander penniless the wide world o’er; yea, let me die: each drop of blood within these veins belongs to Christ, and I am ready to shed it for his name’s sake.” He counts all things but loss, that he may win Christ—that he may be found in him; and when the world’s thunders roars, he smiles at the uproar, while lie hums his pleasant tune:—

“Jerusalem my happy home,

Name ever dear to me;

When shall my labours have an end,

In joy, and peace, and thee?”

When her sword comes out, he looketh at it. “Ah,” saith he, “just as the lightning leapeth from its thunder lair, splitteth the clouds, and affrighteth the stars, but is powerless against the rock-covered mountaineer, who smiles at its grandeur, so now the world cannot hurt me, for in the time of trouble my Father hides me in his pavillion, in the secret of his tabernacle doth he hide me, and set me up upon a rock.” Thus, again, we conquer the world, by not caring for its frowns.

3. “Well,” saith the world, “I will try another style,” and this believe me, is the most dangerous of all. A smiling world is worse than a frowning one. She saith, “I cannot smite the man low with my repeated blows, I will take off my mailed glove, and showing him a fair white hand, I’ll bid him kiss it. I will tell him I love him: I will flatter him, I will speak good words to him.” John Bunyan well describes this Madam Bubble: she has a winning way with her; she drops a smile at the end of each of her sentences; she talks much of fair things, arid tries to win and woo. Oh, believe me, Christians are not so much in danger when they are persecuted as when they are admired. When we stand upon the pinnacle of popularity, we may well tremble and fear. It is not when we are hissed at, and hooted, that we have any cause to be alarmed; it is when we are dandled on the lap of fortune, and nursed upon the knees of the people; it is when all men speak well of us, that woe is unto us. It is not in the cold wintry wind that I take off my coat of righteousness, and throw it away; it is when the sun comes, when the weather is warm, and the air balmy, that I unguardedly strip off my robes, and become naked. Good God! how many a man has been made naked by the love of this world! The world has flattered and applauded him; he has drunk the flattery; it was an intoxicating draught; he has staggered, he has reeled, he has sinned, he has lost his reputation; and as a comet that erst flashed across the sky, doth wander far into space, arid is lost in darkness, so doth he; great as he was, he falls; mighty as he was, he wanders, and is lost. But the true child of God is never so; he is as safe when the world smiles, as when it frowns; he cares as little for her praise as for her dispraise. If he is praised, and it is true, he says, ”“My deeds deserves praise, but I refer all honor to my God.” Great souls know what they merit from their critic; to them it is nothing more than the giving of their daily income. Some men cannot live without a large amount of praise; and if they have no more than they deserve, let them have it. If they are children of God, they will be kept steady; they will not be ruined or spoiled; but they will stand with feet like hinds’ feet upon high places.—“This is the victory that overcometh the world.”

4. Sometimes, again, the world turns jailer to a Christian. God sends affliction and sorrow, until life is a prison-house, the world its jailer—and a wretched jailer too. Have you ever been in trials and troubles, my friends? and has the world never come to you and said, ”“Poor prisoner, I have a key that will let you out. You are in pecuniary difficulties; I will tell you how you may get free. Put that Mr. Conscience away. He asks you whether it is a dishonest act. Never mind about him; let him sleep; think about the honesty after you have got the money, and repent at your leisure.” So saith the world; but you say, “I cannot do the thing.” “Well,” says the world, “then groan and grumble: a good man like you locked up in this prison!” “No,” says the Christian, “my Father sent me into want, and in his own time he will fetch me out; but if I die here I will not use wrong means to escape. My Father put me here for my good, I will not grumble; if my bones must lie here—if my coffin is to be under these stones—if my tomb-stone shall be in the wall of my dungeon—here will I die, rather than so much as lift a finger to get out by unfair means.” “Ah,” says the world, “then thou art a fool.” The scorner laughs and passes on, saying, “The man has no brain, he will not do a bold thing; he hath no courage; he will not launch upon the sea; he wants to go in the old beaten track of morality.” Ay, so he does; for thus he overcomes the world.

Oh! I might tell you of some battles that have been fought. There has been many a poor maiden, who has worked, worked, worked, until her fingers were worn to the bone, to earn a scanty living out of the things which we wear upon us, knowing not that oft times we wear the blood, and bones, and sinews of poor girls. That poor girl has been tempted a thousand times, the evil one has tried to seduce her, but she has fought a valiant battle; stern in her integrity, in the midst of poverty she still stands upright, “Clear as the sun, fair as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners,” a heroine unconquered by the temptations and enticements of vice. In other cases: many a man has had the chance of being rich in an hour, affluent in a moment, if he would but clutch something which he dare not look at, because God within him said, “No.” The world said, “Be rich, be rich;” but the Holy Spirit said, “No! be honest; serve thy God.” Oh, the stern contest. and the manly combat carried on within the heart! But he said, “No; could I have the stars transmuted into worlds of gold, I would not for those globes of wealth belie my principles, and damage my soul :” thus he walks a conqueror. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

II. But my text speaks of a GREAT BIRTH. A very kind friend has told me that while I was preaching in Exeter Hall I ought to pay deference to the varied opinions of my hearers; that albeit I may be a Calvinist and a Baptist, I should recollect that there are a variety of creeds here. Now, if I were to preach nothing but what would please the whole lot of you, what on earth should I do? I preach what I believe to be true; and if the omission of a single truth that I believe, would make me king of England throughout eternity, I would not leave it out. Those who do not like what I say have the option of leaving it. They come here, I suppose, to please themselves; and if the truth does not please them, they can leave it. I will never be afraid that an honest British audience will turn away from the man who does not stick, and stutter, and stammer in speaking the truth. Well, now, about this great birth. I am going to say perhaps a harsh thing, but I heard it said by Mr. Jay first of all. Some say a new birth takes place in an infant baptism, but I remember that venerable patriarch saying,” Popery is a lie, Puseyism is a lie, baptismal regeneration is a lie.” So it is. It is a lie so palpable that I can scarcely imagine the preachers of it have any brains in their heads at all. It is so absurd upon the very face of it, that a man who believes it put himself below the range of a common-sense man. Believe that every child by a drop of water is born again! Then that man that you see in the ring as a prize-fighter is born again, because those sanctified drops once fell upon his infant forehead! Another man swears—behold him drunk and reeling about the streets. He is born again! A pretty born again that is! I think he wants to be born again another time. Such a regeneration as that only fits him for the devil; and by its deluding effect, may even make him sevenfold more the child of hell. But the men who curse, and swear, and rob and steal, and those poor wretches who are hanged, have all been born again, according to the fiction of this beautiful Puseyite church. Out upon it! out upon it! Ah, God sends something better than that into men’s hearts, when he sends them a new birth.

However, the text speaks of a great birth. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” This new birth is the mysterious point in all religion. If you preach anything else except the new birth you will always get on well with your hearers; but if you insist that in order to enter heaven there must be a radical change, though this is the doctrine of the Scripture, it is so unpalatable to mankind in general that you will scarcely get them to listen. Ah! now ye turn away if I begin to tell you, that “except ye be born of water and of the Spirit, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” If I tell you that there must be a regenerating influence exerted upon your minds by the power of the Holy Ghost then I know ye will say “it is enthusiasm.” Ah! but it is the enthusiasm of the Bible. There I stand; by this I will be judged. If the Bible does not say we must be born again, then I give it up; but if it does then, sirs, do not distrust that truth on which your salvation hangs.

What is it to be born again, then? Very briefly, to be born again is to undergo a change so mysterious, that human words cannot speak of it. As we cannot describe our first birth, so it is impossible for us to describe the second. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” But while it is so mysterious, it is a change which is known and felt. People are not born again when they are in bed and asleep, so that they do not know it. They feel it; they experience it. Galvanism, or the power of electricity, may be mysterious; but they produce a feeling—a sensation. So does the new birth. At the time of the new birth the soul is in great agony—often drowned in seas of tears. Sometimes it drinks bitters, now and then mingled with sweet drops of hope. Whilst we are passing from death unto life, there is an experience which none but the child of God can really understand. It is a mysterious change; but, at the same time, it is a positive one. It is as much a change as if this heart were taken out of me, and the black drops of blood wrung from it, then washed and cleansed and put into my soul again. It is “a new heart and a right spirit:” a mysterious but yet an actual and real change!

Let me tell you, moreover, that this change is a supernatural one. It is not one that a man performs upon himself. It is not leaving off drinking and becoming sober; it is not turning from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant; it is not veering round from a Dissenter to a Churchman, or a Churchman to a Dissenter. It is a vast deal more than that. It is a new principle infused which works in the heart, enters the very soul, and moves the entire man. Not a change of my name, but a renewal of my nature, so that I am not the man I used to be, but a new man in Christ Jesus. It is a supernatural change—something which man cannot do, and which only God can effect; which the Bible itself cannot accomplish without the attendant Spirit of God; which no minister’s eloquence can bring about—something so mighty and wondrous, that it must be confessed to be the work of God, and God alone. Here is the place to observe that this new birth is an enduring change. Arminians tell us that people are born again, then fall into sin, pick themselves up again, and become Christians again—fall into sin, lose the grace of God, then come back again—fall into sin a hundred times in their lives, and so keep on losing grace and recovering it. Well, I suppose it is a new version of the Scripture where you read of that. But I read in my Bible that if true Christians could fall away, it would be impossible to renew them again unto repentance. I read, moreover, that wherever God has begun a good work he will carry it on even to the end; and that whom he once loves, he loves to the end. If I have simply been reformed, I may be a drunkard yet, or you may see me acting on the stage. But if I am really born again, with that real supernatural change, I shall never fall away, I may fall into a sin, but I shall not fall finally; I shall stand while life shall last, constantly secure; and when I die it shall be said—

“Servant of God, well done!

Rest from thy blest employ;

The battle’s fought, the victory’s won;

Enter thy rest of joy.”

Do not deceive yourselves, my beloved. If you imagine that you have been regenerated, and having gone away from God, will be once more born again, you do not know anything about the matter; for “he that is born of God sinneth not.” That is, he does not sin so much as to fall away from grace; “for he keepeth himself, that the evil one toucheth him not.” Happy is the man who is really and actually regenerate, and passed from death unto life!

III. To conclude. There IS A GREAT GRACE. Persons who are born again really do overcome the world. How is this brought about? The text says, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Christians do not triumph over the world by reason. Not at all. Reason is a very good thing, and nobody should find fault with it. Reason is a candle: but faith is a sun. Well, I prefer the sun, though I do not put out the candle. I use my reason as a Christian man; I exercise it constantly: but when I come to real warfare, reason is a wooden sword; it breaks, it snaps; while faith, that sword of true Jerusalem metal, cuts to the dividing of soul and body. My text says, “This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.” Who are the men that do anything in the world? Are they not always men of faith? Take it even as natural faith. Who wins the battle? Why, the man who knows he will win it, and vows that he will be victor. Who never gets on in the world? The man who is always afraid to do a thing, for fear he cannot accomplish it. Who climbs the top of the Alps? The man who says, “I will do it, or I will die.” Let such a man make up his mind that he can do a thing. and he will do it, if it is within the range of possibility. Who have been the men who have lifted the standard, and grasping it with firm hand, have upheld it in the midst of stormy strife and battle? Why, men of faith. Who have done great things? Not men of fear and trembling, men who are afraid; but men of faith, who had bold fronts, and foreheads made of brass-men who never shook, and never trembled, but believing in God, lifted their eyes to the hills, whence cometh their strength.

“Never was a marvel done upon the earth, but it had sprung of faith; nothing noble, generous, or great, but faith was the root of the achievement; nothing comely, nothing famous, but its praise is faith. Leonidas fought in human faith as Joshua in divine. Xenophon trusted to his skill, and the sons of Matthias to their cause.” Faith is mightiest of the mighty. It is the monarch of the realms of the mind; there is no being superior to its strength, no creature which will not bow to its divine prowess. The want of faith makes a man despicable, it shrivels him up so small that he might live in a nutshell. Give him faith, and he is a leviathan that can dive into the depths of the sea; he is a war horse, that cries, aha! aha! in the battle; he is a giant who takes nations and crumbles them in his hand, who encounters hosts, and at a sword they vanish; he binds up sheaves of sceptres, and gathers up all the crowns at his own. There is nothing like faith, sirs. Faith makes you almost as omnipotent as God, by the borrowed might of its divinity. Give us faith and we can do all things.

I want to tell you how it is that faith helps Christians to overcome the world. It always does it homoeopathically. You say, “That is a singular idea.” So it may be. The principle is that, “like cures like.” So does faith overcome the world by curing like with like. How does faith trample upon the fear of the world? By the fear of God. “Now,” says the world, “if you do not do this I will take away your life. If you do not bow down before my false god, you shall be put in yon burning fiery furnace.” “But,” says the man of faith, “I fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. True, I may dread you, but I have a greater fear than that, I fear lest I should displease God; I tremble lest I should offend my Sovereign.” So the one fear counterbalances the other. How does faith overthrow the world’s hopes? “There,” says the world, “I will give thee this, I will give thee that, if thou wilt be my disciple. There is a hope for you; you shall be rich, you shall be great.” But, faith says, “I have a hope laid up in heaven; a hope which fadeth not away, eternal, incorrupt, amaranthine hope, a golden hope, a crown of life;” and the hope of glory overcomes all the hopes of the world, “Ah!” says the world, “Why not follow the example of your fellows ?” “Because,” says faith, “I will follow the example of Christ.” If the world puts one example before us, faith puts another. “Oh, follow the example of such an one; he is wise, and great, and good,” says the world. Says faith, “I will follow Christ; he is the wisest, the greatest, and the best.” It overcomes example by example, “Well,” says the world, “since thou wilt not be conquered by all this, come, I will love thee; thou shalt be my friend.” Faith says, “He that is the friend of this world, cannot be the friend of God. God loves me.” So he puts love against love; fear against fear; hope against hope; dread against dread; and so faith overcomes the world by like curing like.

In closing my discourse, men and brethren, I am but a child; I have spoken to you as I could this morning. Another time, perhaps I might be able to launch more thunders, and to proclaim better the word of God; but this I am sure of—I tell you all I know, and speak right on. I am no orator; but just tell you what springs up from my heart. But before I have done, O that I may have a word with your souls. How many are there here who are born again? Some turn a deaf ear, and say, “It is all nonsense; we go to our place of worship regularly; put our hymn books and Bibles under our arm! and we are very religious sort of people.” Ah, soul! if I meet you at the bar of judgment, recollect I said—and said God’s word—“ Except ye be born again ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Others of you say, “We cannot believe that being born again is such a change as you speak of, I am a great deal better than I used to be; I do not swear now, and I am very much reformed.” Sirs, I tell you it is no little change. It is not mending the pitcher, but it is breaking it up and having a new one; it is not patching the heart, it is having a new heart and a right spirit. There is nothing but death unto sin, and life unto righteousness, that will save your souls.

I am preaching no new doctrine. Turn to the articles of the Church of England, and read it there. Church people come to me sometimes to unite with our church; I show them our doctrines in their prayer book, and they have said they never knew they were there. My dear hearers, why cannot you read your own articles of faith? Why, positively, you do not know what is in your own prayer book, Men, now-a-days, do not read their Bibles, and they have for the most part no religion. They have a religion, which is all outside show, but they do not think of searching to see what its meaning really is. Sirs, it is not the cloak of religion that will do for you; it is a vital godliness you need; it is not a religious Sunday, it is a religious Monday; it is not a pious church, it is a pious closet; it is not a sacred place to kneel in, it is a holy place to stand in all day long. There must be a change of heart, real, radical, vital, entire. And now, what say you? Has your faith overcome the world? Can you live above it? or do you love the world and the things thereof? If so, sirs, ye must go on your way and perish, each one of you, unless ye turn from that, and give your hearts to Christ. Oh! What say you, is Jesus worthy of your love? Are the things of eternity and heaven worth the things of time? Is it so sweet to be a worldling, that for that you can lie down in torment? Is it so good to be a sinner, that for this you can risk your soul’s eternal welfare? O, my friends, is it worth your while to run the risk of an eternity of woe for a hour of pleasure? Is a dance worth dancing in hell with howling fiends for ever? Is one dream, with a horrid waking, worth enjoying, when there are the glories of heaven for those who follow God? Oh! if my lips would let me speak to you, my heart would run over at my eyes, and I would weep myself away, until ye had pity on your own poor souls. I know I am, in a measure, accountable for your souls, If the watchmen warn them not, they shall perish, but their blood shall be required at the watchman’s hands, “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die, O house of Israel?” thus saith the Lord. Besotted, filled with your evil wills, inclined to evil; still the Holy Ghost speaks by me this morning, “If ye turn unto the Lord, with full purpose of heart, he will have mercy upon you, and to our God, he will abundantly pardon.” I cannot bring you; I cannot fetch you. My words are powerless, my thoughts are weak! Old Adam is too strong for this young child to draw or drag; but God speak to you, dear hearts; God send the truth home, and then we shall rejoice together, both he that soweth and he that reapeth, because God has given us the increase. God bless you! may you all be born again, and have that faith that overcometh the world!

“Have I that faith which looks to Christ,

O’er comes the world and sin—

Receives him Prophet, Priest, and King,

And makes the conscience clean?

“If I this precious grace possess,

All praise is due to thee;

If not, I seek it from thy hands;

Now grant it, Lord, to me.”

Andrew Bonar (1810-1892): What Gives Assurance

What Gives Assurance
Andrew Bonar (1810-1892)
Copyright: Public Domain

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What Gives Assurance

Note: This was originally a sermon preached at Ferryden, during the awakening in the end of 1859. It was thought to be useful in disentangling the perplexities of some anxious souls; and this gave rise to the request for its publication. (This address was published by Messrs. Chas. Glass and Co., Glasgow.) It is very interesting to notice how, in such times of awakening, the spiritual instincts imparted to the new-born soul by the Holy Ghost seek out the truth. One day, in a fisherman’s house, we found two females sitting together with the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism in their hands. They were talking over the questions on ‘Justification and ‘Adoption,’ and were comparing these with some of the ‘benefits which accompany or flow from them,’ namely, ‘assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ They were themselves happy in the calm assurance of the love of God; but a neighbour had somewhat perplexed them by insisting that they had no right to assurance until they could point to sanctifcation showing itself in their after-lives. On the other hand, those two souls could not see why they should wait till then; for if they had been ‘justified,’ and had a ‘right to all the privileges of the sons of God,’ they might at once have ‘assurance of God’s love.’ This incident falls in with the strain of the following discourse.

Many are the persons who have envied Isaiah, to whom personally the messenger from the throne said, ‘Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged’ (Isaiah 6:7). They are ready to say, ‘Oh, if we heard the same.’ Many are the persons who have envied Daniel, to whom the Lord said, ‘Thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days’ (Daniel 12:13). Daniel was thus assured of the future; with him it was to be rest at death, and a lot, or portion (Josh. 15:1; 16:1), in the inheritance of the saints on the morning of the resurrection of the just. And so also have such persons wished that their case were that of the man to whom, directly and personally, Jesus said, ‘Son, thy sins are forgiven thee’ (Mark 2: 5); and that of the woman in Simon’s house, whose ear heard the blessed declaration, ‘Thy sins are forgiven’ (Luke 7:48); or even that of the thief ‘To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). These sinners were all of them personally certified of pardon and acceptance, and we are ready to think that it would be the height of happiness for ourselves to have, like them, a declaration of our personal forgiveness sounding in our ear.

Now, ere we have finished our subject, we may be able (if the Lord, the Spirit, lead us into the truth set forth in the Word) to see that, after all, we may be as sure and certain of our pardon and acceptance as any or all of these – as sure as Isaiah, Daniel, the palsied man, the woman-sinner, the dying thief, and, let us add, as sure of it as Paul was of Clement and other fellow-labourers having their names in the Book of Life (Phil. 4:3). Nay, we may even discover that our certainty is in all respects higher than theirs was, being founded on something far better than one single announcement, which, in the lapse of time, might lose very much of its distinctness and of its power.

Oh, how blessed to be able to point heavenward and say, ‘It is mine!’ – to point to the throne and say, ‘He is mine who sitteth there’ – to look back and find your name in the Book of Everlasting Love! – to look forward to the opening of the Book of Life, knowing that your name is in it! – to be able to anticipate resurrection, and to sing

‘I know that safe with Him remains,
Protected by His power,
What I’ve committed to His trust,
Till the decisive hour.

Then will He own His servant’s name
Before His Father’s face,
And in the New Jerusalem
Appoint my soul a place.’

We begin by noticing that Assurance is far oftener spoken of than sought for. Many may be said, in a vague sense, to wish for it, who, after all, do not seek after it. Not a few of our communicants, men of knowledge and good attainment, men of high Christian profession, are rather disposed to evade the question, Are you sure of your salvation? They are content to go on in uncertainty. Some of these even spurn from them the idea of any one having full Assurance, branding the idea as Presumption. They quite mistake the meaning of Presumption, which is claiming what we have not been invited to, and are not warranted to take. They do not see that there can be no presumption in our taking whatever our God has invited us to accept; and that, on the other hand, if we decline taking what our God presents to us, we are assuming to ourselves a right to judge of the fitness and wisdom of His proceedings.

Such persons are not in right earnest about salvation and the favour of God. They take things easy. They admit that they may die to-day or tomorrow, and that they do not certainly know what is to become of them and yet they are making no effort to ascertain. They admit that the favour of God is the soul’s real portion, and that they, as yet, cannot speak of that being their enjoyment; and yet they coolly go on day after day without anxious inquiry regarding it.

There are others who, from a wrong religious training, go on in a sort of doubt and fear, cherishing the idea that these doubts and fears are salutary checks to pride, and that they are, on the whole, as safe with the hope that all is right, as they would be with the certainty.

We generally find that these persons are misled by confounding things that differ. They perhaps quote to you, ‘Happy is the man that feareth always (Prov. 28:14), not perceiving that the fear there is the ‘fear of the Lord,’ in which there is ‘strong confidence ‘(Prov. 14:26). Or, perhaps, they quote the unhappy experience of some godly men who died without speaking anything about assurance – not knowing that those godly men longed for certainty, and reckoned it so desirable that their very estimate of its preciousness made them jealous of admitting that they themselves might be partakers thereof.

But the truth is, in many cases, these persons do not care for the close fellowship of God into which Assurance leads the soul. They do not wish to bask in the beams of divine love. They wish merely to be safe at last. But if you would see how entirely different is the effect of a merely hoped-for impunity from that of certainty in regard to divine favour, read these two passages, Deut. 29:19 and 1 John3:3. In the former case the sinner says, ‘I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst;’ in the latter he says, ‘Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.’

Note: Let it be observed that in the New Testament the grace of hope does not imply doubt, but signifies the expectation of the things yet future. Hence, the hope in I John 3:3 was thus stated in verse 2, ‘ We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him. Old writers used to quote a Latin saying, ‘Hope, as used of earthly things, is a word for a good that is uncertain; hope, as used of heavenly things, is a word for good that is most sure.

Once more, then, on this point let us ask attention to the fact that in the New Testament we have no encouragement given to doubts and uncertainties. The believers there are spoken of continually as having the joy of knowing the Saviour as theirs. No doubt there were in those days some believers who were not fully assured; but these were not meant to be any rule to us, now that the Sun of Righteousness has risen so gloriously; and, accordingly, no notice is taken of their case. On the other hand, we are ever meeting with such words as these, spoken in the name of all disciples, ‘We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God’(2 Cor.5:1). ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life.’ ‘We know that we are of God’ (1 John 3:14 and 5:19). ‘I know whom I have believed’ (2 Tim. 1:12).

Note: The late Dr. Sievewright of Markinch, in a sermon upon Eph. 1: 53, has remarked: ‘In those primitive times an apostle could take for granted of a whole church that they all trusted. For, in writing to the Ephesians, does Paul make a single allusion to their unbelief? Or, does he employ a single exhortation in the way of persuasion to believe? Or, from beginning to end of his Epistle, does he hint at such a thing as prevailing distrust? No; in those days Christian men no more thought of refusing to trust in the Saviour than of denying the Word of Truth. But now, is it not a frequent case that a man shall go by a Christian name, and practise Christian duties, and receive Christian privileges, for years together, while he is so far from trusting in Christ with the confidence of faith, that he shall not only confess himself destitute of truth, but often express a fear lest full trust and confidence were an unwarranted and dangerous presumption? How strange this would have sounded in the apostles time, when to trust in Christ, and to trust fully and for all salvation, was the very first exercise to which they called those who were awakened to seek in earnest for eternal life, and received the record of God concerning the way. The remarkable trust of the first Christians gave a perfection to their character we now seldom perceive.

But it is time to speak of what gives Assurance. Of course, we understand that this blessing, like the other blessings of salvation, every one, is the free gift of a sovereign God. It is the ‘God of hope’ who gives it ‘through the power of the Holy Ghost’ (Romans 15:13). But our present point of inquiry is, In what way does it please Him to give it to souls? All agree that Christ’s person and work furnish the materials and groundwork of a sinner’s acceptance, peace, assurance. ‘Peace (says Isaiah 32:17) ‘is the fabric reared by righteousness; yea, the office of righteousness is to give quietness and assurance for ever.’ But there is a difference of opinion and practice as to the way of using these ample materials. We begin with speaking of what we may call,

First, The indirect or long way.

Those who try this way set themselves to ascertain ‘What am I?’ They seek to make sure that they have the marks and evidences of being new creatures in Christ, or at least the marks and evidences of having, beyond doubt, believed in Him. Divines have been wont to call this mode of Assurance ‘the Assurance of sense,’ because in it the person points to sensible proofs of his new nature, and thinks he may some time or other be able to show such an experience of divine things as puts it beyond doubt that he has believed and has found Christ. It is quite wrong, however, to apply the scriptural term ‘Assurance of hope’ to this experimental sort of certainty; for Scripture means the assured belief and expectation of things yet future, by that expression. We may call it, for clearness sake, Assurance got by seeing effects produced. Divines often describe it as Assurance derived from the reflex acts of the soul.

(a) One form which this pursuit of Assurance in the long or indirect way takes, is this, – it leads the person to put much stress on his own act of believing. In this case the person being much concerned about his state towards God, and fearful of mistaking the matter, says to himself ‘I know that all assurance of salvation depends on my believing in Christ, and I think I believe; but what if I be deceiving myself as to my supposed believing?’ Haunted by this thought, he sets himself to remedy the danger by trying to convince himself that he has believed. And in order to make himself sure that he has faith, he resolves not to be satisfied till he sees the full fruits of faith. He puts such stress on his own act of believing, that he will not be content until he sees, by such effects as hypocrites could not imitate, that his was genuine faith.

Now, we say to such – You are not taking the best way to have real fruit; for you are seeking fruit and effect from a selfish motive; you are not seeking holiness as an end, and for its own sake, but in order to use it as an evidence in favour of your sincerity. This kind of fruit is not likely to be the best, nor the most satisfactory. We say again – You are putting Assurance far off. It can only be at some distant future day that you arrive at any certainty by your method; for such fruits as you seek cannot be visible very soon. But we say again – You are by this method taking off your eye from Christ to a great degree. For you try to believe, and then you look into yourself to see if you have believed. You look up to the Brazen Serpent, and then you take off your eye to examine your wound, and to see if the bites are really healing, that so you may be sure you have looked aright! Would a bitten Israelite have put such stress on his own poor act of looking? You are looking at Christ, and then looking away from Him to yourself You are like a gardener who, after planting a tree or flower in rich soil, might be foolish enough to uncover the soil in order to see if the root had struck, and was really imbibing the moisture. Surely, better far to let the root alone, having once ascertained the richness of the soil, and allow the plant to spread out its leaves to the warmth of the sun. Keep looking on Christ, and the effects cannot fail to follow.

(b) Another form that this same indirect method takes is somewhat similar. Those who adopt it do not expect Assurance at the outset, and say that it is presumption and pride in young believers to speak of being sure of their interest in Christ; for where is there time for them to have experience, or exhibit fruits? Such persons think that ripe, mature fruits of holiness alone entitle any one to say, ‘I know that I am in Christ.’ If we might so speak, they do not allow the newly engrafted branch (though really engrafted by the Heavenly Husbandman) to say, ‘I am in the vine,’ – no, they say, wait till you have borne fruit, and then when the clusters appear on your boughs, you may be entitled to say, ‘I am in the vine.’ But not till then.

It is a favourite argument with such that in 1 John 3:14 the Apostle John says, ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. But this does not prove that this is the only way of knowing that we are passed from death unto life. It only shows that an aged and experienced saint like John thought it good sometimes to bring forward his own and his fellow-believers brotherly love as a marked and unmistakable feature of their Christian character. It is very much as if he had said, ‘We believers know each other, as having passed from death unto life, by the love that fills our hearts toward each other.’ He is not speaking to the question, ‘Is this the first, or is it the only trustworthy way by which you know your interest in Christ?’ Surely; so far from that being the case, John would at once have said that he himself found rest in knowing the love of Him who begat before he discerned in himself any love to those begotten of Him.

The truth is, this long and indirect way is properly the way by which others ascertain your standing in Christ. But there is another way for the person’s self, of which we are yet to speak. Also; this way is good even for the person’s self as confirmatory of the short and direct way, of which we are yet to speak. But still we say, if it were the only way, then farewell to gospel-joy, except in the very rarest cases. For, the more a soul grows in grace, the more that the believing man rests in Christ and drinks into His spirit, just the more dissatisfied does he become with all his fruits; his holiness does not please him; he finds defects in it; he finds it mixed and impure; and the longer he lives the life of faith, he gets more and more keen-sighted in detecting blemishes in his graces.

Note: John Newton, in his sermon ‘Of the Assurance of Faith,’ remarks: ‘If inherent sanctification, or a considerable increase of it, be considered as the proper ground of Assurance, those who are most humble, sincere, and desirous of being conformed to the will of God, will be the most perplexed and discouraged in their search after it. For they, of all others, will be the least satisfied with themselves, and have the quickest sense of innumerable defilements.

So that it is difficult indeed to say when a growing believer, ever jealous of himself; will accumulate such a heap of this gold, such an amount of really holy living, as will put beyond doubt, to his own mind, that he is a man between whom and Christ there exists the bond of union. If good works or holiness must be waited for ere faith can be known to be genuine, when are we to expect to attain to an amount or quality sufficiently satisfying?

If this were the only way of Assurance, we could not wonder that many should speak of it as necessarily a very rare attainment, and even as all but impossible. This, however, is not the only way; and we now turn from this way to the other, quoting as we turn to it, the statement of the old Puritan writer, Brooks: ‘Many of God’s dear people are so taken up with their own hearts, and duties, and graces, that Christ is little regarded by them, or minded; and what is this but to be more taken up with the streams than with the fountain? with the bracelets, and ear-rings, and gold-chains, than with the husband? with the nobles than with the king?’ [Brook’s Cabinet, p.393.] And then he adds, ‘Dear Christian, was it Christ or was it your graces, gracious evidences, gracious dispositions, gracious actings, that trod the wine-press of the Father’s wrath?’ And once more: ‘These persons forget their grand work, which is immediate closing with Christ, immediate embracing of Christ, immediate relying, resting, staying upon Christ.’

Let us turn, then, to the Second, The direct or short way.

They who take this way, set themselves to ascertain, ‘Who and what Christ is.’ The Holy Spirit, we believe, delights very specially to use this way, because it turns the eye of the sinner so completely away from self to the Saviour.

What we call the direct and short way, is that in which We are enabled by the Spirit at once to look up to Christ, the Brazen Serpent, and to be satisfied in looking on Him. This simple, direct Assurance is got by what we discern in Christ Himself; not by what we discover about ourselves. It is got by what we believe about Christ; not by what we know about our own act of faith. We may know nothing about our own soul’s actings in believing, and yet we may so know Him on whom we believe as to find ourselves altogether at rest.

In a word, this direct and immediate Assurance is found by my discovering that Christ, God-man, is the very Saviour for my needs and wants, my sins and corruptions; while all the time I may never be once troubled about the question, Am I sure that I believe, and that my act of faith possesses the right quality.

I find it when the Spirit is taking the things of Christ, and showing them to my soul; and I do not need to wait till He next shows me what is in me. Let us explain the matter more fully.

I have Assurance that God accepts me the moment I see the fulness and freeness of Christ’s work. My soul is enabled to see all the claims of justice satisfied at the cross; for there is complete obedience, there is the full penalty paid. At the cross there is room for any sinner, and the gospel invites me as a sinner among the rest to hear what the cross says. Does it not say to me, ‘God-man has provided an infinitely perfect righteousness, and made it honourable for the holy God to embrace the Prodigal Son. Yonder, in the work of God-man, is a rock for the sinner’s feet to stand upon – and this not a mere narrow point, hardly sufficient, but rather a wide continent, stretching out on every side.’ Surely there is room for me there? I feel it is enough! Self is forgotten in presence of this marvellous scene. What could satisfy the conscience better! What could speak peace like this! This is faith rising into Assurance while simply continuing to behold its glorious object.

And now, if any one try to disturb me by this suggestion, ‘How do you know that you are really believing what you recognise as so suited to your need?’ – my reply is simply this, ‘How do I know that I see the sun when I am in the act of gazing upon him in the splendour of his setting?’ That glowing sky, and that globe of mild but ineffable glory cannot be mistaken, if anything is sure to the human vision.

The believer’s own consciousness (quickened of course by the Spirit) is sufficient, in presence of the cross, to assure him that he a sinner, is most certainly welcome to the bosom of the Holy One, who, pointing to the ‘It is finished, cries, ‘Return to me, for I have redeemed thee.

Note: Samuel Rutherford, in a sermon on Luke 8:22, says ‘When I believe in Christ, that instinct of the grace of God, stirred up by the Spirit of God, maketh me know that I know God, and that I believe, and so that I am in Christ, to my own certain apprehension. He then adds, that ‘this does not hinder other inferior evidences.’

Just look at it again. Your soul hears that the Father is well pleased with the full atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son. He condemns and rejects all your works, all your efforts, and your guilty person; but when his Son, our Substitute, appears, then His obedience and His suffering unto death are found – most glorifying to the Holy One and His holy law. While you are pondering the Father’s delighted rest in Christ, who thus wrought all for us, your soul is ‘like the chariots of Amminadib;’ in a moment, you feel your conscience has got rest, as if a voice from that atoning work had said, ‘Peace, be still.’ Your sins, placed in God’s balance, were outweighed by Christ’s infinite merit; and if so, your sins in your own balance are no less surely outweighed by the same weight of immense merit. What satisfies God, satisfies you.

Thus faith, as it gazes on its object, passes on to full Assurance. And if now, again, any one seek to disturb your calm rest by asking, ‘Are you quite sure that you do really believe what is giving you such rest?’ – what other reply could you give but this, ‘As well ask me, when I am enjoying and revelling in the glories of the setting sun, Are you sure your eye really sees that sun which you so admire?’

I sit down and meditate on such a passage as John 3:16, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ The Spirit enables me to see in these words God testifying that no more is needed for my acceptance with God than what is found in Christ: and all that Christ has done becomes mine upon my believing in Him. Relying on God’s testimony, I ask no questions, I wait for nothing in myself (such as love, sorrow, or other feeling), but I think on what is in Christ, as the ground of my peace. And when I so muse, the fire burns – my soul is at rest.

Note: Halyburton (Mem, chap.2. p.3) says: ‘A sweet and comfortable hope and persuasion of my own salvation was answerable to the clearness of the discovery of the way of salvation. The hope rose in strength, or grew weak, as the discoveries of the way of salvation were more or less clear and strong.

And if now, any one disturbs, or threatens to disturb, my calm enjoyment of my Father’s love by hinting, ‘You should first, ere ever you venture to rest, be sure that you are really believing the things that are making you so glad;’ my reply to such an unseasonable interruption might be somewhat in the style of a writer who uses the following illustration: – Suppose a nobleman condemned for high treason, and the day has come when he must die. But that morning a document is put into his hand; it is a pardon from the king, on no other terms than that he accept it. He reads; as he reads, his countenance is flushed, his eye glistens, and in a moment he is full of joy. What think you of any one arresting the current of his joy by the suggestion, ‘Are you quite sure you are accepting the pardon? Is your act of acceptance complete and thorough?’ No; the man is engrossed with the certainties presented to his thoughts, viz., what the king freely gives to him; and these certainties convey their own impression to his soul – to wit, the certainty of his pardon.

Such is the direct way of Assurance. We called it a short and an immediate way. Is it not so? We said, too, at the beginning, that it might turn out that, after all, we had a way of knowing our pardon and acceptance, superior in many respects to that by which on one occasion it was conveyed to Isaiah, and on another to Daniel, and on another to the palsied man, and to the woman-sinner, and to the thief. We still adhere to our statement. For our way of knowing our acceptance, you see, is one that rests on unalterable facts, the significance of which cannot pass away or decay. If it decay from our souls for a time, we can revive it again by a renewed study of the facts that produced it at the first. Whereas the one utterance that assured Isaiah, Daniel, and those others mentioned, might in process of time be found to fade somewhat in its vividness; and then the individual might say to himself; ‘Ah, what if I have over-estimated the meaning of the utterance! or what if I have forgot it in part? or what if my subsequent unworthiness have cancelled the promise?’ In a dull, self-reproaching mood of mind, such a partial obliteration from the mind or memory of a single, solitary announcement is quite a possible occurrence; not to refer to other abatements, such as that the person in a case like Isaiah’s might say to himself; ‘What if it referred only to the past, but does not include what has happened since then?’ But, on the other hand, our way of ascertaining now our pardon and acceptance rests on unchanging and unchangeable facts – facts for ever illustrious, facts for ever rich in meaning, facts for ever uttering the same loud, distinct, full testimony to the sinner’s soul. Yes, we have an altar, and the voice from that altar and its four horns may be heard distinctly from day to day as at first. Our altar is Christ; and this Christ died, rose again, went back to the Father, is interceding for us. These are the four horns of our altar! Let us take hold of any one of them, and lo! we see an accepted sacrifice before us, a sacrifice that speaks peace, that leads our conscience to rest, and makes our hearts leap for joy; for God is well pleased. We have God’s Word reiterating in manifold ways a testimony to be believed; and so we find security against Satan’s whispered suspicions.

And should any one object, ‘Surely there have been many, very many good men and eminent men of God who did not take this short and direct way;’ let us remind such as may stumble at this fact (for it is a fact) of an anecdote which good old Brooks has recorded.{Cabinet, p.115] A minister, who had great joy in Christ, said on his deathbed regarding his peace and quietness of soul, ‘That he enjoyed these not from having a greater measure of grace than other Christians had, nor from any special immediate witness of the Spirit, but because he had more clear understanding of the covenant of grace.’ O Spirit of truth, give all Thy servants this clear understanding of the covenant of grace!

Nor must we fail to notice that this immediate, direct way is that which specially honours God and His beloved Son, inasmuch as it magnifies free grace. Here is the Lord’s free love manifesting itself as so exceedingly free that he will not ask the price of one moment’s waiting or delay. Behold the cross, and at once be at rest! The excuses of the delaying sinner are swept away. Why wait, since all is ready? and where is there room for the plea that God’s time for favour, and so great a favour as that of making you sure of acceptance, may not have come? God in Christ waits for you, presenting and proffering to you an immediate welcome, immediate peace.

Note: It is a very common mistake to allege that God sometimes counsels us to wait. But, if wait be used in the sense of delay, or putting off immediate decision, we assert there is no passage in the Bible to countenance such an idea. Some quote Ps.40:1, ‘I waited patiently – for the Lord, which is (see the margin), ‘In waiting, I waited,’ or ‘I eagerly waited.’ Now, not to insist on the fact that here the speaker is Christ our surety, we must remember that the Old Testament use of ‘wait’ has not in it anything of the idea of procrastination, or delay, or contented waiting in our sense of the term. It always means eager looking, as when a dog looks up to his master’s table for the crumbs, or as when the people waited for the priest coming out of the Holy Place, or as in Job 29: 23, the anxious, intensely anxious, looking out for rain in sultry weather. This is the meaning, Micah 7:8, ‘I will wait for the God of my salvation.’ This is the meaning, Hab. 2:3, ‘Though it tarry, wait for it;’ that is, if you do not see these things come to pass at once, if you do not see at once the Lord appear in His glory to overthrow His foes, yet look out for it anxiously! eagerly hasten on to that day. This is the way in which God’s people ‘wait,’ spoken of in Ps. 130:6; Isa. 11:31. And so Lament. 3:26 is the case of the desolate soul in affliction, earnestly looking up and looking out for deliverance, though calm and resigned. Scriptural waiting is not in the least like that of the careless, easy-minded soul, that pretends it is unwilling to anticipate sovereign grace. And when God himself, in Isa.30:58, is said to ‘wait to be gracious,’ the same idea of eager, earnest looking is implied. It is the intensely anxious waiting of the Prodigal’s Father for the return of his son, for whose coming He is ever on the outlook. Most certainly, there is nothing in Scripture that countenances an unbelieving waiting for faith.

What say you then, unassured soul? Are you still content?

Assurance may be got in beholding steadfastly the Lamb of God and is there no sin in your refusing to behold Him steadfastly?

Want of Assurance leaves you in the awful position of being, on your own showing, possibly still a child of Satan! And can you remain thus without alarm? And the world is passing away. You are dying men. Christ is coming quickly, coming as a thief in the night, coming in an hour that you think not; and you are not ready to meet Him at His coming. There are not less than 8o,ooo of our fellow-men dying every day; 8o,ooo have died today, 8o,ooo more shall die tomorrow, and you may be one of that number whom the scythe of death shall cut down as grass – and yet you are content to have only a vague hope! Content to be without Assurance! You are like the unhappy philosopher who said, ‘I have lived uncertain, I die doubtful, I know not whither I am going.’ Are things to continue thus with you any longer? Do the visions of an eternal hell never rise up before you? Are you never struck with cold fear lest hell be waiting for you? Mirth is most unsuitable for you; laughter is out of season; peace cannot take up her abode under your roof, for you are all at sea about your eternal interests! Yes, you may be almost past all the joy that you are ever to find! Will you not now stand still, and once more examine Christ crucified, Christ’s finished work, to see if that cannot yield you the present and eternal peace which alone can satisfy the soul? We have sought to set all before you; and now we leave you, praying that the Holy Spirit may give efficacy to our words, knowing well that otherwise all is vain:

Let all the promises before him stand,

And set a Barnabas at his right hand,

These in themselves no comfort can afford;

‘Tis Christ, and none but Christ, can speak the word.

John Newton (1725-1807): Trust in the Providence of God

Trust in the Providence of God

and Benevolence to His Poor
John Newton (1725-1807)
Copyright: Public Domain

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On Trust in the Providence of God, and Benevolence to his Poor.

My Dear Friend,

THE more I think of the point you proposed to me, the more I am confirmed to renew the advice I then gave. There is doubtless such a thing as Christian prudence; but, my friend, beware of counterfeits. Self-love and the evil heart of unbelief, will endeavour to obtrude upon us a prudence, so called, which is as opposite to the former as darkness to light. I do not say, that, now you have a wife, and the prospect of a family, you are strictly bound io communicate with the poor in the same proportion as formerly. I say, you are not bound; for every thing of this sort should proceed from a willing mind. But if you should tell me, the Lord has given you such a zeal for his glory, such a concern for the honour of the Gospel, such a love to his members, such a grateful sense of his mercies, (especially by granting you, in this late instance of your marriage, the desire of your heart,) and such an affiance in his providence and promises, that you find yourself very unwilling to be one sixpence in the year less useful than you was before, I could not blame you or dissuade you from it. But I do not absolutely advise it; because I know not the state of your mind, or what measure of faith the Lord has given you. Only this I believe, that when the Lord gives such a confidence, he will not disappoint it.

When I look among the professors, yea, among the ministers of the Gospel, there are few tilings I see a more general want of, than such a trust in God as to temporals, and such a sense of the honour of being permitted to relieve the necessities of his people, as might dispose them to a more liberal distribution of what they have at present in their power, and to a reliance on him for a sufficient supply in future. Some exceptions there are. Some persons I have the happiness to know whose chief pleasure it seems to be, to devise liberal things. For the most part, we take care, first, to be well supplied, if possible, with all the necessaries, conveniencies, and not a few of the elegancies of life; then to have a snug fund laid up against a rainy day, as the phrase is, (if this is in an increasing way, so much the better) that when we look at children and near relatives, we may say to our hearts, “Now they are well provided for.” And when we have gotten all this and more, we are perhaps content, for the love of Christ, to bestow a pittance of our superfluities, a tenth or twentieth part of what we spend or hoard up for ourselves, upon the poor. But, alas! what do we herein more than others? Multitudes who know nothing of the love of Christ, will do thus much, yea, perhaps, greatly exceed us, from the mere feelings of humanity.

But it may be asked, would you show no regard to the possibility of leaving your wife or children unprovided for? Quite the reverse: I would have you attend to it very much; and behold, the Scriptures show you the more excellent way. If you had a little money to spare, would you not lend it to me, if I assured you it should be repaid when wanted I can point out to you better interest and better security than I could possibly give you: Prov. xix. 17. .. “He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth unto the Lord: and that which he hath given, will he pay him again.” What think you of this text? Is it the word of God, or not? Is he worthy of belief, or not? Is he able to make good his word, or is he not? I dare stake all my interest in your friendship, (which I should be very loath to forfeit,) that if you act upon this maxim, in a spirit of prayer and faith, and with a single eye to his glory, you shall not be disappointed. Read over Matt. vi. 26—34. Shall we confine that reasoning and those promises to the primitive times? Say not, “If the Lord would make windows in heaven this thing might be.” He has more ways to bless and prosper those who trust in him, than we are able to point out to him. But I tell you, my friend, he will sooner make windows in heaven, turn stones into bread, yea, stop the sun in his course, than he will suffer those who conscientiously serve him, and depend upon him, to be destitute.

Some instances we have had of ministers who have seemed to transgress the bounds of strict prudence in their attention to the poor. But they have been men of faith, prayer, and zeal; if they did it, not from a caprice of humour, or a spirit of indolence, but from such motives as the Scripture suggests and recommends, I believe their families have seldom suffered for it. I wish you to consult upon this head, what Mrs. Alleine says, in the affecting account she has given of that honoured and faithful servant of God, her husband, Joseph Alleine. Besides, you know not what you may actually save in the course of years by this method. The apostle, speaking of some abuses that obtained in the church of Corinth, says, “For this cause many are sick among you.” If prudence should shut up the bowels of your compassion, (which I trust it never will,) the Lord might quarter an apothecary upon your family, which would perhaps cost you twice the money that would have sufficed to refresh his people, and to commend your ministry and character.

But if, after all, prudence will be heard, I counsel you to do these two things. First, Be very certain that you allow yourselves in nothing superfluous. You cannot, I trust, in conscience think of laying out one penny more than is barely decent; unless you have another penny to help the poor. Then, secondly. Let your friends who are in good circumstances, be plainly told, that, though you love them, prudence, and the necessary charge of a family, will not permit you to entertain them; no, not for a night. What! say you, shut my door against my friends? Yes, by all means, rather than against Christ. If the Lord Jesus was again upon earth in a state of humiliation, and he, and the best friend you have, standing at your door, and your provision so strait that you could not receive both, which would you entertain? Now, he says of the poor, “Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.” Your friends have houses of their own, and money to pay at an inn, if you do not lake them in; but the poor need relief One would almost think that passage, Luke xiv. 12—14. was not considered as a part of God’s word; at least I believe there is no one passage so generally neglected by his own people. I do not think it unlawful to entertain our friends; but if these words do not teach us, that it is in some respects our duty to give a preference to the poor, I am at a loss to understand them.

I was enabled to set out upon the plan I recommend to you, at a time when my certain income was much too scanty for my own provision, and before I had the expectation or promise of assistance from any person upon earth. Only I knew that the Lord could provide me with whatever he saw needful; and I trusted, that if he kept me dependent upon himself, and desirous to live for his service only, he assuredly would do so. I have as yet seen no cause to repent it. I live upon his promise; for as to any present ways or means, every thing here below is so uncertain, that I consider myself in the same situation with the birds of the air, who have neither storehouse nor barn. To-day I have enough for myself, and something to impart to them that need; as to futurity, the Lord must provide; and for the most part I can believe he will. I can tell you, however, that now and then my heart is pinched; unbelief creeps in, and self would much rather choose a strong box, or what the world calls a certainty, than a life of absolute dependence upon the providence of God. However, in my composed hours I am well satisfied. Hitherto he has graciously taken care of me; therefore may my heart trust in him, and not be afraid.

Consider, my friend, the Lord has done well for you likewise. He has settled you peaceably in a good and honourable interest; he has now answered your prayers, in giving you a partner, with whom you may take sweet counsel, one that will help and strengthen you in your best desires. Beware, therefore, of that reasoning which might lead you to distrust the Lord your God, or to act as if you did. You complain that there is too much of an expensive taste among some persons in your congregation. If you set yourself to discountenance this, and should at the same time too closely shut up your hands, they will be ready to charge you with being governed by the same worldly spirit, though in another form. If you have been hitherto tender and bountiful to the poor, and should make too great and too sudden an alteration in this respect, if the blame should not fall upon you, it probably would upon your wife, who, I believe, would be far from deserving it. If the house which has been open to the poor in former times, should be shut against them now you live in it, would it not lead the people’s thoughts back? Would it not open the mouths of those who do not love your ministry, to say, That notwithstanding all your zeal about doctrines, you know how to take care of your own interest, as well as those whom you have thought indifferent and lukewarm in the cause of the Gospel? Would it not? But I forbear. I know you need not such arguments. Yet consider how many eyes are upon you, watching for your halting. Now, at your first setting out, is the proper time seriously to seek the Lord’s directions, that you may, from the beginning, adopt such a plan as may be most to your own comfort, the honour of your character as a minister, the glory of him who has called you, and the edification of your people. It is easier to begin well, than to make alterations afterwards. I trust the Lord will guide and bless you in your deliberations. And for my own part, I am not in the least afraid that you will ever have cause to blame me for the advice I have given, if you should be disposed to follow it.

I have given you my opinion freely, and perhaps with an appearance of more strictness than is necessary. But I would apply our Lord’s words in another case to this: “few men cannot receive this saying; he that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” If the Lord has given you this confidence in his word, you are happy. It is better than the possession of thousands by the year.

I am, &c.

John Newton (1725-1807): Assurance of Faith

Thoughts on Faith and the Assurance of Faith


John Newton (1725-1807)

Copyright: Public Domain


We may easily conceive of a tree without fruit, but the idea of fruit is naturally connected with that of some tree or shrub which produces it. In this sense, assurance is of the essence of faith; that is, it springs from true faith, and can grow upon no other root. Faith likewise is the measure of assurance. While faith is weak, (our Lord compares it in its first principle, to a grain of mustard seed,) assurance cannot be strong.

Jesus Christ the Lord is a complete all-sufficient Saviour. His invitation to the weary and heavy laden is general, without exception, condition, or limitation. He has said, Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out. God not only permits but commands us to believe in the Son of his love. The apostle affirms that he is able to save to the uttermost, all that come unto God by him. When Moses raised the brazen serpent in the wilderness, the direction to the wounded Israelites was very short and simple;—it was only, Look, and live. Thus the Gospel addresses the sinner, Only believe, and thou shalt be saved.

Why then does not every sinner who is awakened to a sense of his guilt, danger, and helplessness, and whose desires are drawn towards the Saviour, believe with full confidence, even upon his first application for mercy? Is not the remedy fully adequate to the malady? ls not the blood of Jesus able to cleanse from all sin? Is not the word of the God of truth worthy of entire credit? Yet with such a Saviour exhibited before the eyes of his mind, and with such promises sounding in his ears, he continues to hesitate and fluctuate between hope and fear. Could he rely as firmly on the word of God, as he can on the word of a man, who, he thinks, means what he says, and is able to make good his promises, he would immediately be filled with joy and peace in believing. But experience and observation may convince us, that, however rational and easy this assurance may seem in theory, it is ordinarily unattainable in practice, without passing through a train of previous exercises and conflicts.

It is true, young converts are often favoured with comfortable impressions, which lead them to hope that their doubts and difficulties are already ended, when perhaps they are but just entering upon their warfare. They are brought, as it were, into a, new world; a strong and lively sense of divine things engrosses their attention; the world sinks into nothing in their esteem; the evil propensities which discourage them are overpowered for a season, and they hope they are quite subdued, and will trouble them no more. Their love, gratitude, praise, and admiration, are in vigorous exercise. An aged, experienced Christian may recollect, with a pleasing regret, many sweet sensations of this kind, in the early stages of his profession, which he cannot recall. But he now knows that the strong confidence he felt in these golden hours was not the assurance of faith;—it was temporary and transient;—it was founded upon what we call a good frame. Though his comforts were strong, his faith was weak; for when the good frame subsided, his fears returned, his hope declined, and he was at his wit’s end. Then, perhaps, he wondered at his own presumption, for daring to hope that such a creature as himself could have any right to the privileges of a believer. And if, in the warmth of his heart, he had spoken to others of what God had done for his soul, he afterwards charged himself with being a hypocrite, and a false witness both to God and man. Thus when the Israelites saw the Egyptians, (who had pursued and terrified them,) cast up dead upon the shore of the Red Sea, they praised the Lord, and believed. They were little aware of the wilderness they had to pass through, and the trials they were to meet with, before they could enter the promised land.

But strong faith and the effect of it, an abiding persuasion of our acceptance in the beloved, and of our final perseverance in grace, are not necessarily connected with sensible comfort.—-A strong faith can trust God in the dark, and say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Yet it is not to be maintained without a diligent use of the instituted means of grace, and a conscientious attention to the precepts of the Gospel. For notions of truth, destitute of power, will not keep the heart in peace. But this power depends upon the influence of the Holy Spirit; and if lie is grieved by the wilful commission of sin, or the wilful neglect of the precepts, he hides his face, suspends his influence, and then confidence must proportionably decline, till he is pleased to return, and revive it. There are likewise bodily disorders, which, by depressing the animal spirits, darken and discolour the medium of our perceptions. If the enemy is permitted to take advantage of these seasons, he can pour in a flood of temptations, sufficient to fill the most assured believer with terror and dismay. But ordinarily, they who endeavour to walk closely and conscientiously with God, attain, in due time, an assurance of hope to the end, which is not easily nor often shaken, though it is not absolutely perfect, nor can be while so much sin and imperfection remain in us.

If it be inquired, why we cannot attain to this state of composure at first, since the object of faith and the promises of God are always the same?—several reasons may be assigned.

Unbelief is the primary cause of all our inquietude, from the moment that our hearts are drawn to seek salvation by Jesus. This inability to take God at his word, should not be merely lamented as an infirmity, but watched, and prayed, and fought against as a great sin. A great sin indeed it is; the very root of our apostasy, from which every other sin proceeds. It often deceives us under the guise of humility, as though it would be presumption, in such sinners as we are, to believe the declarations of the God of truth. Many serious people, who are burdened with a sense of other sins, leave this radical evil out of the list. They rather indulge it, and think they ought not to believe, till they can find a warrant from marks and evidences within themselves. But this is an affront to the wisdom and goodness of God, who points out to us the Son of his love, as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, without any regard to what we have been, or to what we are, excepting that broken and contrite spirit which only himself can create in us. And this broken spirit, though unbelief perverts it to our discouragement, is the very temper in which the Lord delights, and a surer evidence of true grace than those which we are apt to contrive for ourselves. It is written, He that believeth not the record which God hath given of his Son, maketh him a liar. Why do we not start with horror at the workings of unbelief, as we should do at a suggestion to commit murder, or the grossest outward enormity?

Again, our natural pride is a great hindrance to believing. If we acknowledge ourselves to be sinners, and are sensible of our need of mercy, we are not easily brought to see that we are so totally depraved, so exceedingly vile, so utterly destitute of all good, as the word of God describes us to be. A secret dependence upon prayers, tears, resolutions, repentance, and endeavours, prevents us from looking solely and simply to the Saviour, so as to ground our whole hope for acceptance upon his obedience unto death, and his whole mediation. A true believer Mill doubtless repent and pray, and forsake his former evil ways, but he is not accepted upon the account of what he does or feels, but because Jesus lived and died, and rose, and reigns on the behalf of sinners, and because he is enabled by grace to trust in him for salvation. Further, pride leads us into that spirit of vain reasoning, which is contrary to the simplicity of faith. Till this is renounced, till we become in some measure like little children, and receive the doctrines of Scripture implicitly, because they are from God, requiring no farther proof of any point than a Thus saith the Lord; we cannot be established in our hope. Naaman was very desirous to be healed of his leprosy; but if the Lord had not mercifully over-ruled his prejudices, he would have returned a leper as he came. Before he went to Elisha, he had considered in his own mind, how the prophet ought to treat him; and not having the immediate attention paid to him that he expected, he was upon the point of going away; for his reason told him, that if washing could effect his cure, the waters of Syria were as good as those of Jordan. “It seems,” to use the words of a late ingenious writer, “that the Gospel is too good ‘to be believed, and too plain to be understood, till our pride is abased.”

It is difficult to determine, by the eye, the precise moment of day-break: but the light advances from early dawn, and the sun arises at the appointed hour. Such is the progress of divine light in the mind: the first streaks of the dawn are seldom perceived; but, by degrees, objects, till then unthought of, are disclosed. The evil of sin, the danger of the soul, the reality and importance of eternal things, are apprehended, and a hope of mercy through a Saviour is discovered, which prevents the sinner from sinking into absolute despair. —But for a time all is indistinct and confused In this state of mind, many things are anxiously sought for as pre-requisites to believing, but they are sought in vain, for it is only by believing that they can be obtained. But the light increases, the sun arises, the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ shines in upon the soul. As the sun can only be seen by its own light, and diffuses that light by which other objects are clearly perceived; so Christ crucified is the sun in the system of revealed truth; and the right knowledge of the doctrine of his cross satisfies the inquiring mind, proves itself to be the one thing needful, and the only thing necessary to silence the objections of unbelief and pride, and to afford a sure ground for solid and abiding hope.

Once more; we cannot be safely trusted with assurance till we have that knowledge of the evil and deceitfulness of our hearts, which can be acquired only by painful, repeated experience. The young convert, in his brighter hours, when his heart is full of joys, and he thinks his mountain stands too strong to be removed, may be compared to a ship with much sail spread, and but little ballast. She goes on well while the weather is fair, but is not prepared for a storm. When Peter said, “Thou hast the words of eternal life, we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ,” and when he protested, “Though all men should forsake thee, yet will not I,” he undoubtedly spoke honestly; but the event showed that he did not know himself. His resolution was soon and sorely shaken in the hall of the high- priest, so that he denied his Lord with oaths and imprecations. He was left to fall; that he might learn he did not stand by his own strength. The parable of the prodigal may be accommodated for an illustration of this point. The Scripture says, “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord.” But we often want to know at first, and at once; and suppose,—If I was but sure that I am right, and accepted in the Beloved, I could go on with more spirit and success. Many rejoice greatly when they seem to obtain this desire, but their joy is short-lived. They soon resemble the prodigal; they become vain, rash, and careless; they forsake their father’s house; their attention to the means of grace is slackened; they venture upon smaller deviations from the prescribed rule, which, in time, lead them to greater. Thus their stock of grace and comfort is quickly exhausted. They begin to be in want; and, after having been feasted with the bread of life, are reduced to feed upon such husks as the world can afford them. Happy, if at length they are brought to their right minds! But, oh! with what pungent shame and humiliation do they come back to their Father! He, indeed, is always ready to receive and forgive backsliders; but surely they cannot easily forgive themselves for their ingratitude and folly. When he has healed their broken bones, and restored peace to their souls, it may be expected that they will walk softly and humbly to the end of their days, and not open their mouths any more, either to boast, or to censure, or to complain.

For, a man who possesses a Scriptural and well grounded assurance in himself, will evidence it to others by suitable fruits. He will be meek, unassuming, and gentle in his conduct before men, because he is humbled and abased before God.—Because he lives upon much forgiveness, he will be ready to forgive. The prospect of that blessed hope assuredly laid up for him in heaven, will make him patient under all his appointed trials in the present life, wean him from an attachment to the world, and preserve him from being much affected either by the smiles or the frowns of mortals. To hear persons talk much of their assurance, and that they are freed from all doubts and fears, while they habitually indulge proud, angry, resentful, discontented tempers, or while they are eagerly grasping after the world, like those who seek their whole portion -in it, is painful and disgusting to a serious mind. Let us pity them, and pray for them; for we have great reason to fear that they do not understand what they say, nor whereof they affirm.

July 11, 1795.                                                                                                              OMICRON,

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Communion With God–P3/3

Communion With God

The Third Discourse:

How To Close the Day with God


Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright: Public Domain

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Psalm iv. 8.

will both lay me down in peace and sleep; for thou, Lord,

only makest me to dwell in safety.

This may be understood either figuratively, of the repose of the soul in the assurance of God’s grace; or literally, of the repose of the body under the protection of his providence. I love to give Scripture its full latitude, and therefore alike in both.

1. The Psalmist having given the preference to God’s favour above any good, having chosen that, and portioned himself in that, here expresseth his great complacency in the choice he had made. While he saw many making themselves perpetually uneasy with that fruitless inquiry, who will show us any good? wearying themselves for every vanity; he had made himself perfectly easy, by casting himself on the divine good-will,—“Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.” Any good, short of God’s favour, will not serve our turn; but that is enough, without the world’s smiles. The moon and stars, and all the fires and candles in the world, will not make day without the sun; but the sun will make day without any of them. These are David’s sentiments, and all the saints agree with him. Finding no rest, therefore, like Noah’s dove in the deluge defiled world, he flies to the ark, that type of Christ; return unto thy rest, unto thy Noah (so the word is in the original, for Noah’s name signifies rest), O my soul. Psalm cxvi. 7.

If God lift up the light of his countenance upon us, as it fills us with a holy joy, it puts gladness into the heart more than they have whose corn and wine increaseth, ver. 7, so it fixeth us in a holy rest; I will now lay me down and sleep. God is my God, and I am pleased, I am satisfied, I look no further, I desire no more, I dwell in safety, or in confidence, while I walk in the light of the Lord; as I want no good, nor am sensible of any deficiency, so I fear no evil, nor am apprehensive of any danger. The Lord God is to me both a sun and shield; a sun to enlighten and comfort me, a shield to protect and defend me.

Hence learn, that those who have the assurances of God’s favour towards them, may enjoy, and should labour after, a holy serenity and security of mind. We have both these put together in that precious promise, Isaiah xxxii. I7. But the work of righteousness shall be peace; there is a present satisfaction in doing good; and, in the issue, the effect of righteousness shall be quietness and assurance for ever; quietness in the enjoyment of good, and assurance in a freedom from evil.

1. A holy serenity is one blessed fruit of God’s favour. ” I will now lay me down in peace, and sleep. While we are under God’s displeasure, or in doubt concerning his favour, how can we have any enjoyment of ourselves! While this great concern is unsettled, the soul cannot be satisfied. Hath God a controversy with thee? Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eye-lids, until thou hast got the controversy taken up. Go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend, thy best friend, Prov. vi. 34, and when thou hast made thy peace with him, and hast some comfortable evidence that thou art accepted of him, then say wisely and justly, what that carnal worldling said foolishly, and without ground. Soul, take thy ease, for in God, and in the covenant of his grace, thou hast goods laid up for many years, goods laid up for eternity, Luke xii. 19. Are thy sins pardoned? Hast thou an interest in Christ’s mediation? Doth God now in him accept thy works? Go thy way, and eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, Eccl. ix. 7. Let this still every storm, and command and create a calm in thy soul.

Having God to be our God in covenant, we have enough, we have all; and though the gracious soul still desires more of God, it never desires more than God; in him it reposeth itself with a perfect complacency; in him it is at home, it is at rest; if we be but satisfied of his loving-kindness, we may be satisfied with his loving-kindness, abundantly satisfied. There is enough in this to satiate the weary soul, and to replenish every sorrowful soul, Jer. xxxi. 25, to fill even the hungry with good things, with the best things; and being filled, they should be at rest, at rest for ever, and their sleep here should be sweet.

2. A holy security is another blessed fruit of God’s favour. Thou, Lord, makest me to dwell in safety; when the light of thy countenance shines upon me, I am safe, and I know I am so, and am therefore easy, for with thy favour wilt thou compass me as with a shield, Psalm v. 12, being taken under the protection of the divine favour. Though a host of enemies should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not fear, in this I will be confident, Psalm xxvii. 3. Whatever God has promised me, I can promise myself, and that is enough to indemnify me, and save me harmless, whatever difficulties and dangers I may meet with in the way of my duty. Though the earth be moved, yet will not we fear, Psalm xlvi. 2, not fear any evil, no, not in the valley of the shadow of death, in the territories of the king of terrors himself; for there thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

What the rich man’s wealth is to him, in his own conceit, a strong city, and a high wall, that the good man’s God is to him, Prov. Xviii. 10, 11. The Almighty shall be thy gold, thy defence, Job xxii. 25.

Nothing is more dangerous than security in a sinful way, and men’s crying, peace, peace, to themselves, while they continue under the reigning power of a vain and carnal mind. O that the sinners that are at ease were made to tremble. Nothing is more foolish than a security built upon the world and its promises, for they are all vanity and a lie; but nothing more reasonable in itself, or more advantageous to us, than for good people to build with assurance upon the promises of a good God; for those that keep in the way of duty, to be quiet from the fear of evil; as those that know no evil shall befall them, no real evil; no evil but what shall be made to work for their good; as those that know, while they continue in their allegiance to God as their king, they are under his protection, under the protection of Omnipotence itself, which enables them to bid defiance to all malignant powers. If God be for us, who can be against us? This security even the heathen looked upon every honest virtuous man to be entitled to, that is, Integer vitæ celerisque purus, and thought if the world should fall in pieces about his ears, he needed not fear being lost in the desolations of it, Et si fractus illabatur orbis, Impavidum ferient ruinæ; much more reason have Christians, who hold fast their integrity, to lay claim to it; for who is he, or what is it that shall harm us, if we be followers of him that is good in his goodness?

Now, (1.) It is the privilege of good people that they may be thus easy and satisfied. This holy serenity and security of mind is allowed them, God gives them leave to be cheerful; nay, it is promised them, God will speak peace to his people, and to his saints; he will fill them with joy and peace in believing; his peace shall keep their hearts and minds; keep them safe, keep them calm. Nay, there is a method appointed for their obtaining this promised serenity and security. The scriptures are written to them, that their joy may be full, and that through patience and comfort of them they may have hope. Ordinances are instituted to be wells of salvation, out of which they may draw water with joy. Ministers are ordained to be their comforters, and the helpers of their joy. Thus willing has God been to show to the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, that they might have strong consolation, Heb. vi. 17, I8.

(2.) It is the duty of good people to labour after this holy security and serenity of mind, and, to use the means appointed for the obtaining of it. Give not way to the disquieting suggestions of Satan, and to those tormenting doubts and fears that arise in your own souls. Study to be quiet, chide yourselves for your distrusts, charge yourselves to believe and to hope in God, that you shall praise him. You are in the dark concerning yourselves; do as Paul’s mariners did, cast anchor, and wish for the day. Poor trembling Christian, that art tossed with tempests, and not comforted, try to lay thee down in peace and sleep; compose thyself into a sedate and even frame in the name of him whom winds and seas obey, command down thy tumultuous thoughts, and say. Peace, be still; lay thy aching trembling head of thine where the beloved disciple laid his, in the bosom of the Lord Jesus; or, if thou hast not yet attained such boldness of access to him, lay that aching trembling head of thine at the feet of the Lord Jesus, by an entire submission and resignation to him, saying, if I perish, I will perish here; put it into his hand by an entire confidence in him; submit it to his operation and disposal, who knows how to speak to the heart. And if thou art not yet entered into the sabbatism, as the word is, Heb. iv. 9; this present rest that remaineth for the people of God, yet look upon it to be a land of promise, and therefore, though it tarry, wait for it, for the vision is for an appointed time, and at the end it shall speak, and shall not lie. Light is sown for the righteous, and what is sown shall come up again at last in a harvest of joy.

2. The Psalmist having done his day’s work, and perhaps fatigued himself with it, it being now bed-time, and he having given good advice to those to whom he had wished a good night, to commune with their own hearts upon their beds, and to offer the evening sacrifice of righteousness, ver. 4, 5, now retires to his chamber, with this word, “I will lay me down in peace and sleep.” That which I chose this text for, will lead me to understand it literally, as the disciples understood their Master, when he said, Lazarus sleepeth, of taking rest in sleep, John xi. 12, 13. And so we have here David’s pious thoughts when he was going to bed: As when he awakes he is still with God, he is still so when he goes to sleep, and concludes the day, as he opened it, with meditations on God, and sweet communion with him.

It should seem David penned this Psalm when he was distressed and persecuted by his enemies; perhaps it was penned on the same occasion with the foregoing Psalm, when he fled from Absalom his son. Without were fightings, and then no wonder that within were fears; yet then he puts such a confidence in God’s protection, that he will go to bed at his usual time, and with his usual quietness and cheerfulness will compose himself as at other times. He knows his enemies have no power against him but what is given them from above, and they shall have no power given them but what is still under the divine check and restraint; nor shall their power be permitted to exert itself, so far as to do him any real mischief; and therefore he retires into the secret place of the Most High, and abides under the shadow of the Almighty, and is very quiet in his own mind. That will break a worldly man’s heart which will not break a godly man’s sleep: Let them do their worst, saith David, I will lay me down and sleep; the will of the Lord be done.

Now observe here,

1. His confidence in God: “Thou, Lord, makest me to dwell in safety;” not only makest me safe, but makest me to know that I am so; makest me to dwell with a good assurance. It is the  same word that is used concerning him that walks uprightly, that he walks surely, Prov. x. 9. He goes boldly in his way; so David here goes boldly to his bed. He doth not carelessly, as the men, of Laish, Judg. xviii. 7, but dwells at ease in God, as the sons of Zion, in the city of their solemnities, when their eyes see it a quiet habitation, Isa. xxxiii. 20.

There is one word in this part of the text that is observable; thou, Lord, only dost secure me Some refer it to David; even when I am alone, have none of my privy counsellors about me to advise me, none of my life-guards to fight for me, yet I am under no apprehension of danger while God is with me. The Son of David comforted himself with this, that when all his disciples forsook him, and left him alone, yet he was not alone, for the Father was with him. Some weak people are afraid of being alone, especially in the dark: but a firm belief of God’s presence with us in all places, and that divine protection, which all good people are under, would silence those fears, and make us ashamed of them. Nay, our being alone a peculiar people, whom God hath set apart for himself, (as it is here, ver. 3.) will be our security. A sober singularity will be our safety and satisfaction, as Noah’s was in the old world. Israel is a people that shall dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations, and therefore may set them all at defiance till they foolishly mingle themselves among them. Num. xxiii. 9. Israel shall then dwell in safety alone, Deut. xxxiii. 28. The more we dwell alone, the more safe we dwell. But our translation refers it to God: Thou alone makest me to dwell safely. It is done by thee only. God, in protecting his people, needs not any assistance, though he sometimes makes use of instruments. The earth helped the woman; yet he can do it without them; and when all other refuges fail, his own arm works salvation. So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him, Deut. xxxii. 12. yet that is not all, I depend on thee only to do it; therefore I am easy, and think myself safe, not because I have hosts on my side, but purely because I have the Lord of hosts on my side.

Thou makest me to dwell in safety, that I may look either backward or forward, or rather both. Thou hast made me to dwell in safety all day, so that the sun has not smitten me by day; and then it is the language of his thankfulness for the mercies he had received; or, thou wilt make me to dwell in safety all night, that the moon shall not smite me by night: and then it is the language of his dependence upon God for further mercies; and both these should go together; and our eye must be to God as ever the same, who was, and is, and is to come; who has delivered, and doth, and will.

2. His composedness in himself inferred from hence, I will both lay me down and sleep: Simul or pariter in pace cubabo. They that have their corn and wine increasing, that have abundance of the wealth and pleasure of this world, they lay them down and sleep contentedly, as Boaz did at the end of the heap of corn, Ruth iii. 7. But though I have not what they have, I can lay me down in peace, and sleep as well as they. We make it to join, his lying down and his sleeping; I will not only lay me down as one that desires to be composed, but will sleep as one that really is so. Some make it to intimate his falling asleep presently after he had laid him down; so well wearied was he with the work of the day, and so free from any of those disquieting thoughts which would keep him from sleeping.

Now these are words put into our mouths, with which to compose ourselves when we retire at night to our repose; and we should take care so to manage ourselves all day, especially when it draws towards night, as that we may not be unfitted, and put out of frame for our evening devotions; that our hearts may not be overcharged, either, on the one hand, with surfeiting and drunkenness, as their’s often are that are men of pleasure; or, on the other hand, with the cares of this life, as their’s often are that are men of business. But that we may have such a command, both of our thoughts and of our time, as that we may finish our daily work well, which will be an earnest of our finishing our life’s work well; and all is well indeed that ends everlastingly well.

Doct. As we must begin the day with God, and wait upon him all the day, so we must endeavour to close it with him.

This duty of closing the day with God, and in a good frame, I know not better how to open to you, than by going over the particulars in the text in their order, and recommending to you David’s example.

First, Let us retire to lay us down: nature calls for rest as well as food; man goes forth to his work and labour, and goes to and fro about it; but it is only until evening, and then it is time to lie down. We read of Ishbosheth, that he lay on his bed at noon, but death met him there, 2 Sam. iv. 5, 6; and of David himself, that he came off from his bed at evening-tide; but sin, a worse thing than death, met him there, 2 Sam. xi. 2. We must work the works of him that sent us while it is day, it will be time enough to lie down when the night comes, and no man can work; and it is then proper and seasonable to lie down. It is promised, Zeph. ii. 7, “They shall lie down in the evening;” and with that promise we must comply, and rest in the time appointed for rest, and not turn day into night, and night into day, as many do upon some ill account or other.

1. Some sit up to do mischief to their neighbours; to kill, and steal, and to destroy. In the dark they dig through houses which they had marked for themselves in the day time. Job xxiv. 16. David complains of his enemies that at evening they go round about the city, Psal. lix. 6. They that do evil hate the light. Judas the traitor was in quest of his master with his band of men, when he should have been in his bed. And it is an aggravation of the wickedness of the wicked, when they take so much pains to compass an ill design, and have their hearts so much upon it, that they sleep not except they have done mischief, Prov. iv. l6. As it is a shame to those who profess to make it their business to do good, that they cannot find in their hearts to entrench upon any of the gratifications of sense in pursuance of it.

Ut jugulent Homines surgunt de node Latrones,

Tuque ut te serves non expergisceris?

Say then, while others sit up watching for an opportunity to be mischievous, I will lay me down and be quiet, and do nobody any harm.

2. Others sit up in pursuit of the world, and the wealth of it. They not only rise up early, but they sit up late, in the eager prosecution of their covetous practices, Psalm cxxvii. 2, and either to get or save, deny themselves their most necessary sleep; and this their way is their folly, for hereby they deprive themselves of the comfortable enjoyment of what they have, which is the end, under pretence of care and pains to obtain more, which is but the means. Solomon speaks of those that neither day nor night sleep with their eyes, Eccl. viii. 16, that make themselves perfect slaves and drudges to the world, than which there is not a more cruel task-master; and thus they make that which of itself is vanity, to be to them vexation of spirit, for they weary themselves for very vanity, Hab. ii. 13, and are so miserably in love with their chain, that they deny themselves not only the spiritual rest God has provided for them as the God of grace, but the natural rest, which, as the God of nature, he has provided; and is a specimen of the wrong sinners do to their own bodies, as well as their own souls. Let us see the folly of it, and never labour thus for the meat that perisheth, and that abundance of the rich which will not suffer him to sleep; but let us labour for that meat which endureth to eternal life, that grace which is the earnest of glory, the abundance of which will make our sleep sweet to us.

3. Others sit up in the indulgence of their pleasures; they will not lay them down in due time, because they cannot find in their hearts to leave their vain sports and pastimes, their music and dancing and plays, their cards and dice; or, which is worse, their rioting and excess; for they that are drunk are drunk in the night. It is bad enough when these gratifications of a base lust, or at least of a vain mind, are suffered to devour the whole evening, and then to engross the whole soul, as they are apt enough to do insensibly; so that there is neither time nor heart for the evening devotions, either in the closet or in the family: But it is much worse when they are suffered to go far into the night too, for then, of course, they trespass upon the ensuing morning, and steal away the time that should then also be bestowed upon the exercises of religion. Those that can, of choice, and with so much pleasure, sit up until I know not what time of night, to make, as they say, a merry night of it, to spend their time in filthiness, and foolish talking and jesting, which are not convenient, would think themselves hardly dealt with if they should be kept one half hour past their sleeping time, engaged in any good duties, and would have called blessed Paul himself a long-winded preacher, and have censured him as very indiscreet, when, upon a particular occasion, he continued his speech till midnight, Acts XX. 7. And how loath would they be, with David, at midnight, to rise and give thanks to God; or, with their. Master, to continue all night in prayer to God.

Let the corrupt affections, which run out thus and transgress, be mortified, and not gratified. Those who have indulged themselves in such irregularities, if they have allowed themselves an impartial reflection, cannot but have found the inconvenience of them, and that they have been a prejudice to the prosperity of the soul, and should therefore deny themselves for their own good. One rule for the closing of the day well, is to keep good hours. Every thing is beautiful in its season. I have heard it said long since, and I beg leave to repeat it now, that

Early to bed and early to rise,

Is the way to be healthy, and wealthy and wise.

We shall now take it for granted, that unless some necessary business, or some work of mercy, or some more than ordinary act of devotion, keep you up beyond your usual time, you are disposed to lay you down. And let us lay us down with thankfulness to God, and with thoughts of dying; with penitent reflections upon the sins of the day, and with humble supplications for the mercies of the night.

1. Let us lie down with thankfulness to God. When we retire to our bed-chambers or closets, we should lift up our hearts to God, the God of our mercies, and make him the God of our praises when we go to bed. I am sure we do not want matter for praise, if we do not want a heart. Let us therefore address ourselves to that pleasant duty, that work which is its own wages. The evening sacrifice was to be a sacrifice of praise.

(1.) We have reason to be thankful for the many mercies of the day past, which we ought particularly to review, and to say, “Blessed be the Lord who daily loadeth us with his benefits.” Observe the constant series of mercies, which has not been interrupted, or broken in upon, any day. Observe the particular instances of mercy with which some days have been signalized and made remarkable. It is he that has granted us life and favour; it is his visitation that preserves our spirits. Think how many are the calamities we are every day preserved from, the calamities which we are sensibly exposed to, and perhaps have been delivered from the imminent danger of, and those which we have not been apprehensive of; many of which we have deserved, and which others, better than we are, grown under. All our bones have reason to say. Lord, who is like unto thee? For it is God that keepeth all our bones, not one of them is broken. It is of his mercies that we are not consumed.

Think how many are the comforts we every day receive, for all of which we are indebted to the bounty of divine providence. Every bit we eat, and every drop we drink, is mercy; every step we take, and every breath we draw, is mercy. All the satisfaction we have in the agreeableness and affections of our relations, and in the society and serviceableness of our friends: All the success we have in our callings and employments, and the pleasure we take in them: All the joy which Zebulon has in his going out, and Issachar in his tents, is what we have reason to acknowledge with thankfulness to God’s praise.

Yet it is likely the day has not passed without some cross accidents, something or other has afflicted and disappointed us; and if it has, yet that must not indispose us for praise; however it be, yet God is good, and it is our duty in every thing to give thanks, and to bless the name of the Lord, when he takes away as well as when he gives; for our afflictions are but few, and a thousand times deserved; our mercies are many, and a thousand times forfeited.

(2.) We have reason to be thankful for the shadows of the evening, which call us to retire and lie down. The same wisdom, power, and goodness, that makes the morning, makes the evening also to rejoice; and gives us cause to be thankful for the drawing of the curtains of the night about us in favour of our repose, as well as for the opening of the eye-lids of the morning upon us in favour of our business. When God divided between the light and the darkness, and allotted to both of them their time successively, he saw that it was good it should be so. In a world of mixtures and changes, nothing more proper. Let us therefore give thanks to God, who forms the light and creates the darkness; and believe, that as in the revolutions of time, so in the revolutions of the events of time, the darkness of affliction may be as needful for us in its season as the light of prosperity. If the hireling longs until the shadow comes, let him be thankful for it when it doth come, that the burden and heat of the day is not perpetual.

(3,) We have reason to be thankful for a quiet habitation to lie down in; that we are not driven out from among men, as Nebuchadnezzar, to lie down with the beasts of the field; that though we were born like the wild ass’ colt, yet we have not, with the wild ass, the wilderness for our habitation, and the desolate and barren land for our dwelling. That we are not to wander in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth, as many of God’s dear saints and servants have been forced to do, of whom the world was not worthy: But the good Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures: That we have not, as Jacob, the cold ground for our bed, and a stone for our pillow; which yet one would be content with, and covet, if with it one could have his dream.

(4.) We have reason to be thankful that we are not forced to sit up, that our Master not only gives us leave to lie down, but orders that nothing shall prevent our lying down. Many go to bed, but cannot lie down there by reason of painful and languishing sicknesses, of that nature, that if they lie down they cannot breathe. Our bodies are of the same mould, and it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not so afflicted. Many are kept up by sickness in their families: children are ill, and they must attend them. If God takes sickness away from the midst of us, and keeps it away, so that no plague comes near our dwellings, a numerous family, perhaps, and all well, it is a mercy we are bound to be very thankful for, and to value in proportion to the greatness of the affliction where sickness prevails. Many are kept up by the fear of enemies, of soldiers, of thieves. The good man of the house watcheth that his house may not be broken through; but our lying down is not prevented or disturbed by the alarms of war, we are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of repose; therefore should we rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord, even his righteous acts towards the inhabitants of his villages in Israel, which, under his protection, are as safe as walled cities with gates and bars. When we lie down, let us thank God that we may lie down.

2. Let us lie down with thoughts of death, and of that great change which at death we must pass under. The conclusion of every day should put us in mind of the conclusion of all our days; when our night comes, our long night, which will put a period to our work, and bring the honest labourer both to take his rest and receive his penny. It is good for us to think frequently of dying, to think of it as oft as we go to bed. It will help to mortify the corruptions of our own hearts, which are daily burdens, to arm us against the temptations of the world, which are our daily snares; it will wean us from our daily comforts, and make us easy under our daily crosses and fatigues. It is good for us to think familiarly of dying, to think of it as our going to bed, that by thinking often of it, and thinking thus of it, we may get above the fear of it.

(1.) At death we shall retire, as we do at bedtime; we shall go to be private for a while, until the public appearance at the great day. Man lieth down, and riseth not until the heavens be no more, until then they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. Job xiv. 12. Now we go abroad to see and be seen, and to no higher purpose do some spend their day, spend their life; but when death comes, there is an end of both; we shall then see no more in this world: I shall behold man no more, Isa. xxxviii. 11. we shall then be seen no more; the eye of him that hath seen me, shall see me no more, Job vii. 8. we shall be hid in the grave, and cut off from all living. To die is to bid good night to all our friends, to put a period to our conversation with them; we bid them farewell; but blessed be God it is not an eternal farewell. We hope to meet them again in the morning of the resurrection, to part no more,

(2.) At death we shall put off the body, as we put off our clothes when we lie down. The soul is the man, the body is but clothes; at death we shall be unclothed, the earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, the garment of the body shall be laid aside; death strips us, and sends us naked out of the world as we came into it; strips the soul of all the disguises wherein it appeared before men, that it may appear naked and open before God. Our grave clothes are night clothes.

(3.) At death we shall lie down in the grave as our bed, shall lie down in the dust, Job xx. 11. To those that die in sin, and impenitent, the grave is a dungeon; their iniquities which are upon their bodies, and which lie down with them, make it so; but to those that die in Christ, that die in faith, it is a bed, a bed of rest, where there is no tossings to and fro until the dawning of the day, as sometimes there are upon the easiest beds we have in this world, where there is no danger of being scared with dreams, and terrified with visions of the night, there is no being chastened with pain on that bed, or the multitude of the bones with strong pain. It is the privilege of those, who, while they live, walk in their uprightness, that when they die they enter into peace, and rest in their beds, Isa. Ivii. 2. Holy Job comforts himself with this, in the midst of his agonies, that he shall shortly make his bed in the darkness, and be easy there. It is a bed of roses, a bed of spices, to all believers ever since he lay in it, who is the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

Say then of thy grave, as thou dost of thy bed at night, there the weary are at rest; with this further consolation, that thou shalt not only rest there, but rise thence shortly, abundantly refreshed, shalt be called up to meet the beloved of thy soul, and to be for ever with him; shalt rise to a day which will not renew thy cares, as every day on earth doth, but secure to thee unmixed and everlasting joys. How comfortably may we lie down at night, if such thoughts as these lie down with us; and how comfortably may we lie down at death, if we have accustomed ourselves to such thoughts as these.

3. Let us lie down with penitent reflections upon the sins of the day past. Praising God, and delighting ourselves in him, is such pleasant work, and so much the work of angels, that methinks it is a pity we should have any thing else to do; but the truth is, we make other work for ourselves by our own folly, that is not so pleasant, but absolutely needful, and that is repentance. While we are at night solacing ourselves in God’s goodness, yet we must intermix therewith the afflicting of ourselves for our own badness; both must have their place in us, and they will very well agree together; for we must take our work before us.

(1.) We must be convinced of it, that we are still contracting guilt. We carry corrupt natures about with us, which are bitter roots that bear gall and wormwood, and all we say or do is imbittered by them. In many things we all offend, insomuch that there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sins not. We are in the midst of a defiling world, and cannot keep ourselves perfectly unspotted from it. If we say we have no sin, or that we have passed a day and have not sinned, we deceived ourselves; for if we know the truth by ourselves, we shall see cause to cry, Who can understand his errors? cleanse us from our secret faults, faults which we ourselves are not aware of. We ought to aim at a sinless perfection, with as strict a watchfulness as if we could attain it: But, after all, we must acknowledge that we come short of it; that we have not yet attained, neither are already perfect. We find it by constant sad experience, for it is certain we do enough every day to bring us upon our knees at night.

(2.) We must examine our consciences, that we may find out our particular transgressions the day past. Let us every night search and try our ways, our thoughts, words, and actions, compare them with the rule of the word, look our faces in that glass, that we may see our spots, and may be particular in the [acknowledgment of them. It will be good for us to ask, What have we done this day? What have we done amiss? What duty have we neglected? What false step have we taken? How have we carried it in our callings, in our converse? Have we done the duties of our particular relations, and accommodated ourselves to the will of God in every event of providence? By doing this frequently, we shall grow in our acquaintance with ourselves, than which nothing will contribute more to our soul’s prosperity.

(3.) We must renew our repentance for whatever we find has been amiss in us, or has been said or done amiss by us. We must be sorry for it, and sadly lament it, and take shame to ourselves for it, and give glory to God by making confession. If any thing appear to have been wrong more than ordinary, that must be particularly bewailed; and, in general, we must be mortified for our sins of daily infirmity, which we ought not to think slightly of because they are returning daily, but rather be the more ashamed of them, and of that fountain within, which casts out these waters.

It is good to be speedy in renewing our repentance, before the heart be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Delays are dangerous, green wounds may soon be cured, if taken in time, but if they stink and are corrupt, as the Psalmist complains, Psalm. xxxviii.5, it is our fault and folly, and the cure will be difficult. Though, through the weakness of the flesh, we fall into sin daily, if we get up again by renewed repentance at night, we are not, nor ought we to think ourselves utterly cast down. The sin that humbles us shall not ruin us.

(4) We must make a fresh application of the blood of Christ to our souls for the remission of our sins, and the gracious acceptance of our repentance. We must not think that we have need of Christ only at our first conversion to God; no, we have daily need of him, as our advocate with the Father, and therefore, as such, he always appears in the presence of God for us, and attends continually to this very thing. Even our sins of daily infirmity would be our ruin, if he had not made satisfaction for them, and did not still make intercession for us. He that is washed, still needeth to wash his feet from the filth he contracts in every step; and, blessed be God, there is a fountain opened for us to wash in, and it is always open.

(5.) Let us lie down with humble supplications for the mercies of the night. Prayer is as necessary in the evening as it was in the morning; for we have the same need of the divine favour and care, to make the evening out-goings to rejoice, that we had to beautify those of the morning.

(1.) We must pray that our outward man may be under the care of God’s holy angels, who are the ministers of his providence. God hath promised that he will give his angels charge concerning those who make the Most High their refuge, and that they shall pitch their tents round about them and deliver them; and what he hath promised, we may and must pray for, not as if God needed the service of the angels, or as if he did himself quit all the care of his people, and turn it over to them. But it appears, by abundance of Scripture proofs, that they are employed about the people of God, whom he takes under his special protection, though they are not seen, both for the honour of God, by whom they are charged, and for the honour of the saints with whom they are charged. It was the glory of Solomon’s bed, that three score valiant men were about it, of the valiant of Israel, all holding swords, because of fear in the night. Cant. Iii. 7, S» But much more honourably and comfortably are all true believers attended, for though they lie ever so meanly, they have hosts of angels surrounding their beds, and by the ministration of good spirits are preserved from malignant spirits. But God will for this be inquired of by the house of Israel; Christ himself must pray the Father, and he will send to his relief legions of angels. Mat. xxvi. 53. Much more reason have we to ask, that it may be given us.

(2.) We must pray that our inward man may be under the influences of his Holy Spirit, who is the author and fountain of his grace. As public ordinances are opportunities in which the Spirit works upon the hearts of men, and therefore when we attend on them, we must pray for the Spirit’s operations; so are private retirements, and therefore me must put up the same prayer when we enter upon them. We find, that in slumberings upon the bed, God openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction. Job xxxiii. 15, 16. And with this David’s experiences concur; he found that God visited him in the night, and tried him, and so discovered him to himself, Psalm. xvii. 3. And that God gave him counsel, and his reins instructed him in the night season, and so he discovered himself to him. Psalm xvi. 7. He found that was a proper season for remembering God, and meditating upon him; and in order to our due improvement of this proper season for conversing with God in solitude, we need the powerful and benign influences of the blessed Spirit, which therefore, when we lie down, we should earnestly pray for, and humbly put ourselves under, and submit ourselves to. How God’s grace may work upon us when we are asleep, we know not; the soul will act in a state of separation from the body, and how far it doth act independent of the body, when the bodily senses are all locked up, we cannot say; but are sure that the Spirit of the Lord is not bound. We have reason to pray, not only that our minds may not be either disturbed or polluted by evil dreams, in which, for aught we know, evil spirits sometimes have a hand, but may be instructed and quieted by good dreams; which Plutarch reckons among the evidences of increase and proficiency in virtue, and on which the good Spirit has an influence. I have heard of a good man that used to pray at night for good dreams.

Secondly. When we lay us down, our care and endeavour must be to lay us down in peace. It is promised to Abraham, that he shall go to his grave in peace, Gen. xv. 15, and this promise is sure to all his spiritual seed; for the end of the upright man is peace. Josiah dies in peace though he is killed in battle; now, as an earnest of this, let us every night lie down in peace. It is threatened to the wicked, that they shall lie down in sorrow, Isa. 1. 11. It is promised to the righteous, that they shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid, Lev. xxvi. 6, Job xi. 19. Let us then enter into this rest, this blessed Sabbatism, and take care that we come not short of it.

1. Let us lie down in peace with God, for without this there can be no peace at all. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked, whom God is at war with. A state of sin is a state of enmity against God; they that continue in that state are under the wrath and curse of God, and cannot lie down in peace. What have they to do with peace? Hasten, therefore, sinner, hasten to make thy peace with God in Jesus Christ, by repentance and faith; take hold on his strength, that thou mayest make peace with him, and thou shalt make peace; for fury is not with him. Conditions of peace are offered, consent to them; close with him who is our peace; take Christ upon his own terms, Christ upon any terms. Defer not to do this; dare not to sleep in that condition in which thou darest not die. Escape for thy life, look not behind thee. Acquaint now thyself with him, now presently, and be at peace, and thereby this good shall come unto thee, thou shalt lie down in peace.

Sin is ever and anon making mischief between God and our souls, provoking God against us, alienating us from God; we therefore need to be every night making peace, reconciling ourselves to him, and to his holy will, by the agency of his Spirit upon us, and begging of him to be reconciled to us through the intercession of his Son for us; that there may be no distance, no strangeness between us and God, no inter. posing cloud to hinder his mercies from coming down upon us, or our prayers from coming up unto him. Being justified by faith, we have this peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: and then we may not only lie down in peace, but we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Let this be our first care, that God have no quarrel with us, nor we with him.

2, Let us lie down in peace with all men; we are concerned to go to sleep, as “well as to go to die, in charity. Those that converse much with the world, can scarcely pass a day but something or other happens that is provoking; some affront is given them, some injury done them, at least they so think. When they retire at night and reject upon it, they are apt to magnify the offence; and while they are musing on it, the fire burns; their resentment rises, and they begin to say, I will do so to him as he has done to me, Prov. Xxiv. 29. Then is the time of ripening the passion into a rooted malice, and meditating revenge; then therefore let wisdom and grace be set on work, to extinguish this fire from hell before it get head; then let this root of bitterness be killed and plucked up; and let the mind be disposed to forgive the injury, and to think well of, and wish well to, him that did it. If others incline to quarrel with us, yet let us resolve not to quarrel with them. Let us resolve, that whatever the affront or injury was, it shall neither disquiet our spirits, nor make us to fret, which Peninnah aimed at in provoking Hannah, 1 Sam, i, 6. nor sour or imbitter our spirits, or make us peevish and spiteful: But that we still love ourselves, and love our neighbours as ourselves, and therefore not by harbouring malice, do any wrong to ourselves or our neighbour. And we shall find it much easier in itself, and much more pleasant in the reflection, to forgive twenty injuries than to avenge one.

3. Let us lie down in peace with ourselves, with our minds, with a sweet composedness of spirit and enjoyment of ourselves. Return unto thy rest, O my soul, and be easy; let nothing disturb my soul, my darling.

But when may we lie down in peace at night?

1. If we have, by the grace of God, in some measure done the work of the day, and filled it up with duty, we may then lie down in peace at night. If we have the testimony of our consciences, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have this day had our conversation in the world; that we have done some good in our places, something that will turn to a good account; if our hearts do not reproach us with a diem perdidi, alas ! I have lost a day; or with that which is worse, the spending of that time in the service of sin, which should have been spent in the service of God; but if, on the contrary, we have abode with God, have been in his fear, and waited on him all the day long, we may then lie down in peace; for God saith, Well done, good and faithful servant; and the sleep of the labouring man, of the labouring Christian, is sweet, is very sweet, when he can say, as I am a day’s journey nearer my end, so 1 am a day’s work fitter for it. Nothing will make our bed-chambers pleasant, and our beds easy, like the witness of the Spirit of God with our spirits, that we are going forward for heaven; and a conscience kept void of offence, which will not only be a continual feast, but a continual rest.

2. If we have, by faith and patience, and submission to the divine will, reconciled ourselves to all the event is of the day, so as to be uneasy at nothing that God has done, we may then lie down in peace at night. Whatever hath fallen out cross to us, it shall not fret us, but we will kiss the rod, take up the cross, and say, all is well that God doth. Thus we must, in our patience, keep possession of our own souls, and not suffer any affliction to put us out of the possession of them. We have met with disappointments, perhaps in husbandry, in trade, or at sea; debtors prove insolvent, creditors prove severe; but this and the other proceedeth from the Lord, there is a providence in it, every creature is what God makes it to be, and therefore I am dumb, I open not my mouth: That which pleaseth God, ought not to displease me.

3. If we have put ourselves under the divine protection for the ensuing night, we may then lay us down in peace. If, by faith and prayer, we have run into the name of the Lord as our strong tower, have fled to take shelter under the shadow of his wings, and made the Lord our refuge and our habitation, we may then speak peace to ourselves, for God in his word speaks peace to us. If David has an eye to the cherubims, between which God is said to dwell, when he saith, Psalm Ivii. 1. In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge; yet certainly he has an eye to the similitude Christ makes use of, of a hen gathering her chickens under her wings, when he saith, Psalm xci. 4. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust; and the chickens under the wings of the hen are not only safe, but warm and pleased.

4. If we have cast all our cares for the day following upon God, we may then lay us down in peace. Taking thought for the morrow is the great hinderance of our peace in the night. Let us but learn to live without disquieting care, and to refer the issue of all events to that God, who may and can do what he will, and will do what is best for those that love and fear him: Father, thy will be done, and then we make ourselves easy. Our Saviour presseth this very much upon his disciples, not to perplex themselves with thoughts, what they shall eat, and what they shall drink, and wherewithal they shall be clothed, because their heavenly Father knows that they have need of these things, and will see that they be supplied. Let us therefore ease ourselves of this burden, by casting it on him who careth for us: what need he care, and we care too?

Thirdly, Having laid ourselves down in peace, we must compose ourselves to sleep. I will lay me down and sleep. The love of sleep for sleeping sake, is the character of the sluggard; but as it is nature’s physic for the recruiting of its weary powers, it is to be looked upon as a mercy equal to that of our food, and in its season to be received with thankfulness.

And with such thoughts as these we may go to sleep.

1. What poor bodies are these we carry about with us, that call for rest and relief so often, that are so soon tired even with doing nothing, or next to nothing. It is an honour to man above the beasts, that he is made to go erect, Os Homini sublime dedit. It was part of the serpent’s curse, on thy belly shalt thou go: yet we have little reason to boast of this honour, when we observe how little a while we can stand upright, and how soon we are burdened with our honour, and are forced to lie down. The powers of the soul, and the senses of the body, are our honour; but it is mortifying to consider, how, after a few hours use, they are locked up under a total disability of acting; and it is necessary they should be so. Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, or the strong man in his strength, since they both lie for a fourth part of their time utterly bereft of strength and wisdom, and on a level with the weak and foolish.

2. What a sad thing is it to be under the necessity of losing so much precious time as we do in sleep; that we should lie so many hours every four and twenty, in no capacity at all of serving God or our neighbour, of doing any work of piety or charity. Those that consider how short our time is, and what a great deal of work we have to do, and how fast the day of account hastens on, cannot but grudge to spend so much time in sleep, cannot but wish to spend as little as may be in it, cannot but be quickened by it to redeem time when they are awake, and cannot but long to be there where there shall be no need of sleep, but they shall be as the angels of God, and never rest day nor night from the blessed work of praising God.

3. What a good Master do we serve, that allows us time for sleep, and furnishes us with conveniencies for it, and makes it refreshing and reviving to us. By this it appears the Lord is for the body; and it is a good reason why we should present our bodies to him as living sacrifices, and glorify him with them. Nay, sleep is spoken of as given by promise to the saints, Psalm cxxvii. 2. So he giveth his beloved sleep. The godly man hath the enjoyment of that in a quiet resignation to God, which the worldly man labours in vain for in the eager pursuit of the world. What a difference is there between the sleep of a sinner, that is not sensible of his being within a step of hell, and the sleep of a saint, that has good hopes, through grace, of his being within a step of heaven; that is the sleep God gives to his beloved.

4. We have now one day less to live than we had in the morning; the thread of time is winding off apace, its sands are running down, and as time goes, eternity comes. It is hasting on; our days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. which passeth and repasseth in an instant; and what do we of the work of time? What forwardness are we in to give up our account? O that we could always go to sleep with death upon our thoughts ! how would it quicken us to improve time ! It would make our sleep not the less desirable, but it would make our death much the less formidable.

5. O that, when I awake, I may be still with God, that the parenthesis of sleep, though long, may not break off the thread of my communion with God, but that as soon as I awake 1 may resume it. O that, when I awake in the night, I may have my mind turned to good thoughts, may remember God upon my bed, who then is at my right hand, and to whom the darkness and the light are both alike; and that I may sweetly meditate upon him in the night watches; that thus even that time may be redeemed, and improved to the best advantage, which otherwise is in danger, not only of being lost in vain thoughts, but mispent in ill ones. O that, when I awake in the morning, my first thoughts may be of God, that with them my heart may be seasoned for all day.

6. O that I may enter into a better rest than that which 1 am now entering upon ! The apostle speaks of a rest, which we, that have believed, do enter into, even in this world, as well as of a rest which, in the other world, remains for the people of God, Heb. iv. 4, 9. Believers rest from sin and the world, they rest in Christ, and in God through Christ, they enjoy a satisfaction in the covenant of grace, and their interest in that covenant: this is my rest for ever, here will I dwell. They enter into this ark; and there are not only safe, but easy. Now, O that I might enjoy this rest while I live, and when I die, might enter into something more than rest, even the joy of my Lord, a fulness of joy.

Fourthly. We must do all this in a believing dependence upon God and his power, providence, and grace. Therefore I lay me down in peace, and compose myself to sleep, because thou. Lord, keepest me, and assurest me that thou dost so. Thou, Lord, makest me to dwell in safety. David takes notice of God’s compassing his path, and his lying down, as he observes, Psalm cxxxiv. 3. He sees his eye upon him, when he is retired into his bed-chamber, and none else sees him; when he is in the dark, and none else can see him. Here he takes notice of him, compassing his lying down as his preserver, and sees his hand about him, to protect him from evil, and keep him safe: feels his hand under him to support him, and to make him easy.

1. It is by the power of God’s providence that we are kept safe in the night, and on that providence we must depend continually. It is he that preserveth man and beast, Psalm xxxvi. 6, that upholds all things by the word of his power. That death, which by sin entered into the world, would soon lay all waste, if God did not shelter his creatures from its arrows, which are continually flying about. We cannot but see ourselves exposed in the night. Our bodies carry about with them the seeds of all diseases; death is always working in us, a little thing would stop the circulation either of the blood or the breath, and then we are gone, either never wake, or wake under the arrests of death.

We are very unable to help ourselves, and our friends unable to help us; we are not aware of the particulars of our danger, nor can we foresee which way it will arise; and therefore know not where to stand upon our guard, or, if we did, we know not how. When Saul was asleep, he lost his spear and cruise of water, and might as easily have lost his head, as Sisera did, when he was asleep, by the hand of a woman. What poor helpless creatures are we, and how easily are we overcome when sleep has overcome us! Our friends are asleep too, and cannot help us. An illness may seize us in the night, which, if they be called up and come to us, they cannot help us; even the most skilful and tender physicians are of no value.

It is therefore God’s providence that protects us, night after night, by his care and kindness. That was the hedge about Job, about him and his house, and all that he had, Job i. 10; a hedge that Satan himself could not break through, nor find a gap in, though he traversed it round. There is a special protection which God’s people are taken under; they are hid in his pavilion, in the secret of his tabernacle, under the protection of his promise, Psalm xXvii. 5. They are his own, and dear to him, and he keeps them as the apple of his eye, Psalm xvii. 8. He is round about them from henceforth and for ever, as the mountains are round about Jerusalem, Psalm cxxv. 2. He protects their habitations as he did the tents of Israel in the wilderness; for he hath promised to create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion a pillar of cloud by day, to shelter from heat, and the shining of a flaming fire by night, to shelter from cold, Isa. iv, 5. Thus he blesseth the habitation of the just, so that no real evil shall befall it, nor any plague come nigh it.

This care of the divine providence, concerning us and our families, we are to depend upon, so as to look upon no provisions we make for our own safety sufficient, without the blessing of divine providence upon it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen watch in vain. Be the house never so well built, the doors and windows never so well barred, the servants never so careful, never so watchful, it is all to no purpose, unless he that keeps Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, undertakes for our safety; and if he be thy protector, at destruction and famine thou shalt laugh, and shalt know that thy tabernacle is in peace. Job v. 22, 24.

2. It is by the power of God’s grace that we are enabled to think ourselves safe, and on that grace we must continually depend. The fear of danger, though groundless, is as vexatious as if it were never so just. And therefore, to complete the mercy of being made to dwell safely, it is requisite that, by the grace of God, we be delivered from our fears, Psalm xxxiv. 4. as well as from the things themselves that we are afraid of, that shadows may not be a terror to us, no more than substantial evils.

If by the grace of God we are enabled to live by faith, that faith which sets God always before us; that faith which applies the promises to ourselves, and puts them in suit at the throne of grace; that faith which purifies the heart, overcomes the world, and quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one, that faith which realizes unseen things, and is the substance and evidence of them: If we be actuated and governed by his grace, we are made to dwell safely, and to bid defiance to death itself, and all its harbingers and terrors. O Death ! where is thy sting? This faith will not only silence our fears, but will open our lips in holy triumphs. If God be for us, who can be against us?

Let us lie down in peace, and sleep, not in the strength of a natural resolution against fear, nor merely of rational arguments against it, though they are of good use, but in a dependence upon the grace of God to work faith in us, and to fulfil in us the work of faith. This is going to sleep like a Christian under the shadow of God’s wings; going to sleep in faith, and it will be to us a good earnest of dying in faith; for the same faith that will carry us cheerfully through the short death of sleep, will carry us through the long sleep of death.

For Application.

First. See how much it is our concern to carry our religion about with us wherever we go, and to have it always at our right hand; for at every turn we have occasion for it, lying down, rising up, going out and coming in; and those are Christians indeed, who confine not their religion to the new moons and the Sabbaths, but bring the influences of it into all the common actions and occurrences of human life. We must sit down at our tables, and rise from them, lie down in our beds, and arise from them, with an eye to God’s providence and promise. Thus we must live a life of communion with God, even while our conversation is with the world.

And in order to this, it is necessary that we have a living principle in our hearts, a principle of grace, which, like a well of living water, may be continually springing up to life eternal, John iv. 14. It is necessary likewise that we have a watchful eye upon our hearts, and keep them with all diligence, that we set a strict guard upon their motions, and have our thoughts more at command than I fear most Christians have. See what need we have of the constant supplies of divine grace, and of a union with Christ, that by faith we may partake of the root and fatness of the goodly olive continually.

Secondly. See what a hidden life the life of good Christians is, and how much it lies from under the eye and observation of the world. The most important part of their business lies between God and their own souls, in the frame of their spirits, and the workings of their hearts in their retirements, which no eye sees but his that is all eye. Justly are the saints called God’s hidden ones, and his secret is said to be with them; for they have meat to eat, and work to do, which the world knows not of; and joys, and griefs, and cares, which a stranger doth not intermeddle with. Great is the mystery of serious godliness.

And this is a good reason why we should look upon ourselves as incompetent judges one of another, because we know not the hearts of others, nor are witnesses to their retirements. It is to be feared there are many whose religion lies all on the outside. They make a fair show in the flesh, and perhaps a great noise; and yet are strangers to this secret communion with God, in which consists so much of the power of godliness. And, on the other hand, it is to be hoped, there are many who do not distinguish themselves by any thing observable in their profession of religion, but pass through the world without being taken notice of; and yet converse much with God in solitude, and walk with him in the even constant tenor of a regular devotion and conversation. The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Many merchants thrive by a secret trade, and make no bustle in the world. It is fit therefore that every man’s judgment should proceed from the Lord, who knows men’s hearts, and sees in secret.

Thirdly. See what enemies they are to themselves, that continue under the power of a vain and carnal mind, and live without God in the world. Multitudes, 1 fear there are, to whom all that has been said of secret communion with God, is accounted as a strange thing, and they are ready to say of their ministers, when they speak of it, do they speak parables? They lie down and rise up, go out and come in, in the constant pursuit either of worldly profits, or of sensual pleasures : But God is not in all their thoughts, not in any of them. They live upon him, and upon the gifts of his bounty, from day to day, but they have no regard to him, never own their dependence on him, nor are in any care to secure his favours.

They that live such a mere animal life as this, do not only put a great contempt upon God, but do a great deal of damage to themselves; they stand in their own light, and deprive themselves of the most valuable comforts that can be enjoyed on this side heaven. What peace can they have who are not at peace with God? What satisfaction can they take in their hopes, who build them not upon God the everlasting foundation? Or in their joys, who derive them not from him, the fountain of life and living waters? O that at length they would be wise for themselves, and remember their Creator and benefactor.

Fourthly, See what easy and pleasant lives the people of God might live, if it were not their own faults. There are those who fear God, and work righteousness, and are accepted of the Lord, but go drooping and disconsolate from day to day, are full of cares, and fears, and complaints, and make themselves always uneasy; and it is because they do not live that life of delight in God, and dependence on him, that they might and should live. God has effectually provided for their dwelling at ease, but they make not use of that provision he has laid up for them.

O that all who appear to be conscientious, and are afraid of sin, would appear to be cheerful, and afraid of nothing else; that all, who call God Father, and are in care to please him, and keep themselves in his love, would learn to cast all their other care upon him, and commit their way to him as to a Father. He shall choose our inheritance for us, and knows what is best for us, better than we do for ourselves. Thou shalt answer. Lord, for me. It is what I have often said, and will abide by, That a holy heavenly life, spent in the service of God, and in communion with him, is the most pleasant and comfortable life any person can live in this world.

Fifthly, See in this, what is the best preparation we can make for the unchangeable world that is before us. We know God will bring us to death, and it is our great concern to get ready for it. It ought to be the business of every day, to prepare for our last day; and what can we do better for ourselves in the prospect of death, than by frequent retirements for communion with God, to get more loose from that world, which at death we must leave, and better acquainted with that world, which at death we must remove to. By going to our beds as to our graves, we shall make death familiar to us, and it will become as easy to us to close our eyes in peace and die, as it used to be to close our eyes in peace and sleep.

We hope God will bring us to heaven j and by keeping up daily communion with God, we grow more and more meet to partake of that inheritance, and have our conversation in heaven. It is certain, all that will go to heaven hereafter begin their heaven now, and have their hearts there. If we thus enter into a spiritual rest every night, that will be a pledge of our blessed repose in the embraces of divine love, in that world wherein day and night come to an end, and we shall not rest day or night from praising him, who is, and who will be, our eternal rest.