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things concerning them, that we may be satisfied in their accomplishment. As,
1. The promises of the new covenant, as unto the first communication of grace unto the elect, are absolute and unconditional; they are the executive conveyances of God's immutable purposes and decrees. And what should be the condition of the communication of the first grace unto us? Nothing that is not grace can be so. If it be said, that this also is of God in us, which is the condition of the communication of the first saving grace unto us, then I would know whether that be bestowed upon us without
any condition; if it be, then that is the first grace, as being absolutely free; if it be not, then what is the condition whereon it is bestowed, concerning which the same inquiry must be made, and so for ever? But this is the glory of covenant promises, that as unto the communication of the grace of conversion and sanctification unto the elect, they are absolutely free and unconditionate. But,
2. The promises which respect the growth, degrees, and measures of this grace in believers are not so.
There are many duties required of us, that these promises may be accomplished towards us, and in us; yea, watchful diligence in universal gospel obedience is expected from us unto this end. See 2 Pet. i. 4-10. This is the ordinary method of the communication of all supplies of grace to make us spiritually flourish, and be fruitful, namely, that we be found in the diligent exercise of what we have received. God doth sometimes deal otherwise in a way of sovereignty, and surpriseth men with healing grace in the midst of their decays and backslidings, as Isaiah, lvii. 17, 18. So hath many a poor soul been delivered from going down into the pit. The good shepherd will go out of his way to save a wandering sheep; but this is the ordinary method.
3. Notwithstanding these blessed promises of growth, flourishing, and fruitfulness, if we are negligent in the due improvement of the grace which we have received, and the discharge of the duties required of us, we may fall into decays, and be kept in a low, unthrifty state all our days. And this is the principal ground of the discrepancy between the glory and beauty of the church, as represented in the promises of the gospel, and as exemplified in the lives and
walking of professors, they do not live up unto the condition of their accomplishment in them; howbeit, in God's way and time they shall be all fulfilled. We have, therefore, innumerable blessed promises concerning the thriving, growing, and flourishing of the principle of spiritual life in us, even in old age, and until death ; but the grace promised unto this end, will not befall us whilst we are asleep in spiritual sloth and security. Fervent prayer, the exercise of all grace received, with watchfulness unto all holy duties, are required hereunto.
3. God hath secured the growth of this spiritual life, by the provision of food for it, whereby it may be strengthened and increased; for life must be preserved by food. And this in our case is the word of God, with all other ordinances of divine worship which depend thereon; 1 Pet. ii. 2, 3. Whatever the state of this life be, whether in its beginning, its progress, its decays, there is suitable nourishment provided for it in the good word of God's grace. If men will neglect their daily food that is provided for them, it is no wonder if they be weak and thriftless. And if believers are not earnest in their desires after this food, if they are not diligent in providing of it, attending unto it, much more if through corruptions and temptations they count it in the preaching of it light and common food, which they do not value, it is no wonder if they fall into spiritual decays; but God hath herein provided for our growth even unto old age.
And this is the first thing which was proposerl unto confirmation, namely, that the constitution and nature of spiritual life is such, as to be indeficient, so as to thrive and grow even in old age, and unto the end.
2. The second thing proposed, is, that notwithstanding all this provision for the growth of spiritual life in us, believers especially, in a long course of profession are subject to decays, such as may cast them into great perplexities, and endanger their eternal ruin.
And these spiritual decays are of two sorts : 1. Such as are gradual and universal, in the loss of the vigour and life of
grace, both in its principle, and in its exercise. 2. Such as are occasioned by surprisal into sin through the power of temptation ; I mean such sins as do waste the spiritual powers of the soul, and deprive it of all solid peace.
As for temporary believers, give them but time enough in this world, especially if it be accompanied with outward prosperity, or persecution ; and for the most part their decays of one sort or another will make a discovery of their hypocrisy. Though they retain a form of godliness, they deny the power of it ; Prov.i.31. [2 Tim. m. 5.) And if they do not openly relinquish all duties of religion, yet they will grow so lifeless and savourless in them, as shall evidence their condition; for so it is with them who are lukewarm, who are neither hot nor cold, who have a name to live, but are dead.
And herein lieth a signal difference in this matter, between sincere believers, and those who believe only for a time; for those of the latter sort do either not perceive their sickness and decays, their minds being taken up and possessed with other things; or if they do find that it is not with them as it hath been formerly, they are not much concerned, and on any occasional new conviction they cry, ‘Yet a little more slumber, a little more sleep, a little more folding of the hands to sleep:' but when the other do find any thing of this nature, it makes them restless for a recovery. And although through the many snares, temptations, and deceits of sin, or through their ignorance of the right way for their healing, they do not many of them obtain a speedy recovery, yet none of them do approve themselves in such a condition, or turn unto any undue reliefs.
Now that believers are subject to decays in both the ways mentioned, we have full testimony in Scripture : for as unto that general gradual decay in the loss of our first faith, love, and works, in the weakening of the internal principle of spiritual life, with the loss thereon of delight, joy, and consolation, and the abatement of the fruits of obedience, our Lord Jesus Christ doth expressly charge it on five of the seven churches of Asia, Rev. ii. 3. And in some of them, as Sardis and Laodicea, those decays had proceeded unto such a degree, as that they were in danger of utter rejection : and hereunto answers the experience of all churches, and all believers in the world. Those who are otherwise minded, are dead in sin, and have got pretences to countenance themselves in their miserable condition. So is it with the church of Rome; and I wish others did not in some measure follow them therein.
And as unto those of the second sort, whereinto men are cast by surprisals and temptations, producing great spiritual distress and anguish of soul, under a sense of God's displeasure, we have an instance in David, as he gives us an account of himself, Psal. xxxviii. 2-10. O Lord, thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh, because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones, because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over my head : as an heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt, because of my foolishness,' &c.
It is certain, that here is a description of a very woful state and condition; and the psalmist, knowing that he was called of God to be a teacher and instructor of the church in all ages, records his own experience unto that end. Hence the title of it is, 'A Psalm to bring to remembrance.' Some judge that David had respect unto some great and sore disease that he was then visited withal. But if it were so, it was only an occasion of his complaint; the cause of it was sin alone. And four things he doth represent: 1. That he had departed from God, and fallen into provoking sins, which had produced great distresses in his mind, ver. 3, 4. 2. That he had foolishly continued in that state, not making timely application to grace and mercy for healing, whereby it was grown deplorable, ver. 5. And this folly is that alone which makes such a condition dangerous; namely, when men on their surprisals in sin, do not speedily apply themselves unto healing remedies. 3. That he had herein a continual sense of the displeasure of God by reason of sin, ver. 244. 4. That he was altogether restless in this state, mourning, groaning, labouring continually for deliverance.
This is a clearer delineation of the condition of believers, when either by the greatness of any sin, or by a long continuance in an evil and a careless frame, they are cast under a sense of divine displeasure. This opens their minds and their hearts, declaring how all things are within, which they cannot deny. It is not so with many in the same measures and degrees as it was with David, whose falls were very great; but the substance of it is found in them all. And herein the heart knoweth its own bitterness; a stranger intermeddleth not with it: none knows the groaning and la
bouring of a soul convinced of such spiritual decays, but he alone in whom they are. Hereon is it cast down to the earth, going mourning all the day long, though others know nothing of its sorrows: but it is of a far more sad consideration, to see men manifesting their inward decays by their outward fruits, and yet are little or not at all concerned therein. The former are in ways of recovery ; these in the paths that go down to the chambers of death.
I suppose, therefore, I may take it for granted, that there are few professors of religion, who have had any long continuance in the ways of it, having withal been exposed unto the temptations of life, and much exercised with the occasions of it; but that they have been asleep in their days, as the spouse complains of herself, Cant. v. 2. that is, they have been overtaken with decays of one sort or another, either with respect unto spiritual or moral duties, in their relation unto churches or families; in their judgments, or their affections; in their inward frames or outward actions, they have been overtaken with the effects of sloth, negligence, or the want of a continual watch in the life of faith : I wish it were otherwise.
I principally herein intend those gradual declensions in the life and
grace, which men in a long course of profession are subject unto. And these for the most part proceed from formality in holy duties, under the constant outward performance of them; vehement engagements in the affairs of life, an overvaluation of sinful enjoyments, growth in carnal wisdom, neglect of daily mortification of such sins as men are naturally disposed unto, with a secret influence from the prevalent temptation of the days wherein we live, which things are not now to be spoken unto.
3. But I come to that which was proposed in the third place, namely, to shew that this at present is the state of many professors of religion, that they are fallen under those spiritual decays, and do not enjoy the effects of the promises concerning flourishing and fruitfulness, which we have insisted on. To fasten a conviction on them, or some of them at least, that it is indeed so with them, is my present design; and this ought to be done with some diligence. The glory of Christ, the honour of the gospel, and the danger of the souls of men do call for it. This is the secret root of all