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sied of him; 'In his days the righteous shall flourish,' Psal. lxxii. 7. namely, through the abundance of grace that should be administered from his fulness; as John i. 16. Col. i. 19. And herein consists the glory of the gospel, and not in outward prosperity, or external ornaments of divine worship. The flourishing of the righteous, I say, in grace and holiness, is the glory of the office of Christ, and of the gospel. Where this is not, there is no glory in the profession of our religion. The glory of kings is in the wealth and peace of their subjects : and the glory of Christ is in the grace and holiness of his subjects.
This flourishing is compared to the palm-tree, and the growth of the cedar. The palm-tree is of the greatest ver dure, beauty, and fruitfulness, and the cedar of the greatest and longest growth of any trees. So are the righteous compared to the palm-tree, for the beauty of profession, and fruitfulness in obedience; and unto the cedar for a continual, constant growth and increase in grace. Thus it is with all that are righteous, unless it be from their own sinful neg. lect, as it is with many in this day. They are hereon rather like the shrubs and heaths in the wilderness, which see not when good cometh, than like the palm-tree or the cedars of Lebanon. And hereby do men what lies in them, obscure the glory of Christ and his kingdom, as well as disquiet their own souls.
The words that follow, ver. 13. They that be planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God, are not distinctive of some from other, as though some only of the flourishing righteous were so planted; but they are descriptive of them all, with an addition of the way and means whereby they are caused so to grow and flourish. And this is their implantation in the house of the Lord ; that is, in the church, which is the seat of all the means of spiritual life, both as unto growth and flourishing, which God is pleased to grant unto believers. To be planted in the house of the Lord, is to be fixed and rooted in the grace communicated by the ordinances of divine worship. Unless we are planted in the house of the Lord, we cannot flourish in his courts. See Psal. i. 3. Unless we are partakers of the grace administered in the ordinances, we cannot flourish in a fruitful profession. The outward participation of them
is common unto hypocrites, that bear some leaves, but neither grow like the cedar, nor bear fruit like the palm-tree. So the apostle prays for believers, that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith, that they may be rooted and grounded in love;' Eph. iii. 17. 'Rooted, built up, and established;' Col. ii. 7. The want hereof is the cause that we have so many fruitless professors; they have entered the courts of God by profession, but were never planted in his house by faith and love. Let us not deceive ourselves herein; we may be entered into the church, and made partakers of the outward privileges of it, and not be so planted in it as to flourish in grace and fruitfulness.
That which on this occasion I principally intend, is the grace and privilege expressed ver. 14. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.' The be three things which constitute a spiritual state, or belong to the life of God. ]. That believers be fat, that is, by the heavenly juice, sap, or fatness of the true olive, of Christ himself; as Rom. xi. 17. This is the principle of spiritual life and grace derived from him. When this abounds in them, so as to give them strength and vigour in the exercise of grace, to keep them from decays and withering, they are said to be fat, which in the Scripture phrase is strong and healthy. 2. That they flourish in the greenness (as the word is) and verdure of profession; for vigorous grace will produce a flourishing profession. 3. That they still bring forth fruit in all duties of holy obedience: all these are promised unto them even in old age.
Even trees, when they grow old (the palm and the cedar), are apt to lose their juice and verdure: and men in old
age are subject unto all sorts of decays both outward and inward. It is a rare thing to see a man in old age naturally vigorous, healthy, and strong; and would it were not more rare to see any spiritually so at the same season: but this is here promised unto believers as an especial grace and privilege, beyond what can be represented in the growth or fruit-bearing of plants and trees.
The grace intended is, that when believers are under all sorts of bodily and natural decays, and it may be have been overtaken with spiritual decays also, there is provision made in the covenant to render them fat, flourishing, and fruit
ful, vigorous in the power of internal grace, and Aourishing in the expression of it in all duties of obedience, which is that which we now inquire after.
Blessed be God for this good word of his grace, that he hath given us such encouragement against all the decays and temptations of old age which we have to conflict withal.
And the psalmist in the next words declares the greatness of this privilege. To shew that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, there is no unrighteousness in him.' Consider the oppositions that lie against the flourishing of believers in old age, the difficulties of it, the temptations that must be conquered, the actings of the mind above its natural abilities which are decayed, the weariness that is apt to befall us in a long spiritual conflict, the cries of the flesh to be spared, and we shall see it to be an evidence of the faithfulness, power, and righteousness of God in covenant; nothing else could produce this mighty effect. So the prophet treating of the same promise, Hos. xiv. 4–8. closeth his discourse with that blessed remark, ver. 9. •Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them.' Spiritual wisdom will make us to see that the faithfulness and power of God are exerted in this work of preserving believers flourishing and fruitful unto the end.
Having laid the foundation of this illustrious testimony, I shall farther declare and confirm my intention, so to make way for the application of the truth under consideration unto this case, manifesting, that the way whereby we may be made partakers of this grace, is by a steady view of the glory of Christ, as proposed unto us in the gospel.
There is a latter spring in the year, a spring in autumn; it is, indeed, for the most part but faint and weak, yet is it such as the husbandınan cannot spare. And it is an evident sign of barren ground, when it doth not put forth afresh towards the end of the year. God, the good husbandman, looks for the same from us, especially if we had a summer's drought in spiritual decays; as the psalmist complains, Psal. xxxii. 4. Had we not had a latter spring the last year, the land had greatly suffered under the drought of the summer. And if we have had such a drought in the course of
our profession by spiritual decays, as God, the good husbandman, looks for a latter spring in us, even in old age, in the vigorous acting of grace and fruitful obedience; so without it we can neither have peace nor joy in our own souls. If a man, therefore, hath made a great appearance of religion in his former or younger days, and when he is growing into age becomes dead, cold, worldly, selfish; if he have no fresh springs of spiritual life in him, it is an evidence that he hath a barren heart, that was never really fruitful to God. I know that many stand in need of being excited by such warning, unto a diligent consideration of their state and condition.
It is true, that the latter spring doth not bring forth the same fruit with the former. There is no more required in it, but that the ground evidence itself to be in good heart, and to put forth that which is proper unto the season.
It may be such graces as were active and vigorous in men at their first conversion unto God, as were carried in a stream of warm, natural affections, may not so eminently abound in the latter spring of old age; but those which are proper for the season, as namely, spirituality, heavenly-mindedness, weanedness from the world, readiness for the cross, and death, are necessary, even in old age, to evidence that we have a living principle of grace, and to shew thereby that God is upright; he is our rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
What is farther to be insisted on, shall be reduced unto these four heads:
1. That the constitution of spiritual life, is such as is meet to thrive, grow, and increase unto the end, and will do so, unless it be from the default of them in whom it is.
2. That notwithstanding this nature and constitution of spiritual life, yet believers are subject unto many decays, partly gradual, and partly by surprisals in temptation, whereby the growth of it is obstructed unto the dishonour of the gospel, and the loss of their own peace with joy.
3. I shall shew that such at present is the condition of many professors, namely, that they are visibly fallen under spiritual decays, and do not evidence any interest in the blessed promise insisted on.
4. On the confirmation of these things, our inquiry will
be, how such persons may be delivered from such decays, and by what means they may obtain the grace here promised, of spiritual flourishing in old age, both in the strengthening of the inward principle of life, and abounding in fruits of obedience, which are to the praise of God by Jesus Christ; and then we shall make application unto this case, of that truth which is the subject of the preceding discourse.
1. The constitution of spiritual life is such, as is meet to grow and increase unto the end. Hereby it doth distinguish itself from that faith which is temporary; for there is a temporary faith which will both flourish for a season, and bring forth some fruit, but it is not in its nature and constitution to abide, to grow, and increase, but rather to decay and wither. It is described by our Lord Jesus Christ, Matt. xiii. 20, 21. Either some great temptation extinguisheth it, or it decays insensibly, until the mind wherein it was do manifest itself to be utterly barren. And, therefore, whoever is sensible of any spiritual decays, he is called unto a severe trial and examination of himself, as unto the nature of the principle of his profession and obedience; for such decays do rather argue a principle of temporary faith only, unto which they are proper and natural, than that whose nature it is to thrive and grow to the end, whereon those that have it, shall, as it is in the promise, still bring forth fruit, and without their own great guilt be always freed from such decays.
That this spiritual life is in its nature and constitution such as will abide, thrive, and grow to the end, is three ways testified unto in the Scripture.
1. In that it is compared unto things of the most infallible increase and progress; for besides that its growth is frequently likened unto that of plants and trees well watered, and in a fruitful soil, which fail not to spring, unless it be from some external violence; it is likewise .compared unto such things as whose progress is absolutely infallible; Prov. iv. 18. The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The path of the just is his covenant-walk before God, as it is frequently called in the Scripture; Psal. cxix. 35. 105. Isa. xxvi. 7. Psal. xxiii. 3. Mat. iii. 3. Heb. xii. 13. and it compriseth the principle, profession, and fruits of it. This, saith the wise