The Fiery Trial
As it hath pleased the Lord in His mercy to my poor soul to bring me into the path of tribulation, and in so doing to empty me from vessel to vessel, that I might not settle on my lees, and discriminate me from the many thousands of light and trifling professors in the awful day in which we now live; and having lately waded through deep waters and had heavy furnace work, in which the good work has been tried to the quick, and I have concluded that I should go down altogether-these things which I now have in view, have at such seasons appeared to me to be of the greatest importance, and I have felt a great desire to write upon the subject. Much opposition I have met with from Satan in the attempt, who ever will oppose heart work. But being to-day confined at home through a complaint in my neck, and feeling the desire come again, I opened the Bible, looking up to the Lord; and the words which I have stated as a text were the words I opened on, and which have been on my mind for above a week. If I should find good in writing, and my reader good in reading, may the whole glory be to Him to whom alone it is due, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the God of all their spiritual seed; for He has taught me, from feeling experience, that without Him I can do nothing.
The apostle Paul, both in the first chapter and in this where our text is, doth sharply reprove the church at Corinth for their envyings, strife, and divisions about preachers; and he calls it carnal. Hence one says, "For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed. I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." Paul was very tender of God's honour, and therefore says, "So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one" as though he should say, Then, how inconsistent are these divisions which are among you, seeing it is one God that worketh all in all, "dividing to every man severally as he will!" and therefore there is but one faith, one baptism, one heart, one way, one Lord, and His name one. There is plenty of this work (of divisions) in the day in which we live, which I doubt riot in time will bring heavy afflictions on the church, and then they will be glad to cleave more together.
After this (verses 10-15) Paul speaks of the important work of the ministry, and says, "according to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation (that is, ministerially) and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now, if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood hay, stubble, every man's work shall be made manifest." By gold, silver, and precious stones, I understand God's elect; and the good work of God in them will stand the fire, the same as gold, silver, &c., literally will. By wood, hay, stubble, I understand hypocrites, the reprobate, and non-elect; and as they have not this good work in them, they cannot endure the fiery trial, any more than wood, hay, or stubble literally can. That this is the real meaning is beyond a doubt. If we consider it as to the elect, God says, "I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on My name, and I will hear them: I will say, it is My people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God." (Zech. xiii. 9.) Thus He owns them in the furnace. Now, the others are called, wood, hay, stubble. Hence God told the prophet Jeremiah, "I will make my word in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall consume them." Again, "For behold the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up." (Mal. iv. i.) Now, though the apostle is here particularly alluding to a minister, yet as the Scriptures do not confine it there, neither indeed does Paul, for he speaks of the work (if wood, &c.) being burned, we shall not confine it either, but show that it has to do with both preachers and hearers. And then come in the words of the text; "And the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
I. The work that will stand the fire.
That God does begin, carry on, and complete a good work in His elect, and in none else, needs but little to be said to prove. Hence Paul says, when writing to the church of God at Philippi, "being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." And the Psalmist David says, "Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through Thy work." Hence God says, "I will work, and who shall let it?" 'But', say you, 'in the text it is called man's work.' Yes, but this is only ministerially. Hence Paul says, "We, then, as workers together with Him," that is, with God, instruments that He uses; but the work, if real, is His own.
Now this work lies, firstly, in taking us out of the old soil, wherein we all are by sin; and secondly, implanting us in another soil. We will treat of both these operations.
Now, first, we are all fast in the flesh. Every man living is here by nature, birth, and practice; and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. The children of the flesh, these are not (manifestly) the children of God. But here we all are, as Paul says: "By nature children of wrath, even as others." Now, it is God's work to transplant us, to take us out of the old soil, in consequence of His having chosen us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world; and the way in which this is done is not always exactly the same. God is a Sovereign, and no man by searching can find him out to perfection. Hence it is that very fair beginnings, which according to our best views appear to be His work, come to nothing, and we are deceived in many characters; and others that we think lightly of shall stand fast, and be proved at last to be the elect of God. But still, though God works in this way to mortify the pride of our hearts, yet it is all the same in the end.
Now, according to God's unerring word, which is our rule, there are two things communicated to the soul; first light; second, life. And this is God's work, and includes every individual thing that can possibly be mentioned, if we were to mention a thousand things respecting the internal work of grace in the heart.
Let us notice a few things that may throw a light upon what I have asserted.
I. Then, "The entrance of Thy word giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple." (Psalm cxix. 130.) Now, take notice, the word enters; and what is the word? I answer, it is life. Hence Christ says, " "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life;" and this word that is life, giveth light. Again: "It giveth understanding to the simple;" and understanding is a wellspring of life. Again: "I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me;" and "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." But this is life also, for "the fear of the Lord tendeth to life;" the fear of the Lord is a "fountain of life." And now, before I proceed any farther, you may clearly see the separating work that is going on (manifestly) in such as have this light and life, which is God's work. Have they got this word, which is spirit and which is life? Then they "walk not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful, but their delight is in the law of the Lord (that is, His word) and in His law they meditate day and night." They are glad when their day's work is done to have an hour to themselves, to examine themselves and confess their sins, to read, hear, meditate, and converse about God's word. Hence David says, "Thy word have I hid in my heart;" and this the Jewish scribes and Pharisees were destitute of, with all their pretensions to religion. Hence the Saviour told them, "I know that My word hath no place in you."
Again. This word of life "giveth understanding to the simple," - then such forsake the foolish and live, and go in the way of understanding; and I told you that understanding is a well-spring of life. Again: this fear, which is God's work, and is a fountain of life, is put in the heart; and "the fear of the Lord is to hate evil," pride, and arrogancy. Thus we are taken out of the old soil, and manifestly transplanted into Christ Jesus. And suppose this never takes place with us? Then, says Christ, "Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up." Now such are called "trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified." But I proceed.
It is God's work to give faith. "By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." "This is the work of God: that you believe on Him whom He hath sent." But life lies here also, for "he that believeth hath everlasting life." This faith differs from all others by feeling; for if I believe the threatenings of God's word against sin and sinners, I tremble at it, and expect the execution of the sentence; and if I believe the promises, I feel His anger removed, as the church says, and that He comforts my soul with the consolations of His most Holy Spirit. This light of life discovers and feels the wretched state man is in by Adam's fall. Every corruption of the heart in God's time will be made manifest, and such will see and feel their need of Jesus Christ, His blood to cleanse them from all sin, and His righteousness to justify them freely from all things, which is God's work. Hence He says, "I will cleanse their blood whom I have not cleansed;" "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin;" "It is God that justifieth;" "By the obedience of one (that is, the obedience of Jesus Christ) shall many be made righteous." Now, life and light lie in all this; for we see and feel the sin of our nature, the sin of our life, the extent of God's law, and the reigning power of Satan, sin, death, corruption, lusts, the ungodly, the law, &c.; in short, every thing to a convinced sinner lords it over him till by faith he lays hold of the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, the one to cleanse and the other to justify, and then his soul is set at liberty. But does life lie in the reception of these also? Yes; "He that drinketh My blood hath everlasting life;" and if justification takes place, it is justification unto life.
I declare I was very heartless to begin to write this morning, for I felt at such a loss to know how to go on, that I thought I would drop it altogether. But the Lord in answer to prayer does help me - to Him be all the glory. Again: this liberty consists in a love to God, to His family, His truth, and His ways; it is not a liberty to live a loose life, to live in sin; no, by no means. "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil; " "If ye love Me, keep My commandments;" "Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another;" "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour;" charity "thinketh no evil." Now this also is God's work, and life lies in it also. "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." Such serve God out of pure love to Him, in simplicity, honesty, and uprightness of heart; they are not driven to His house of worship, nor to prayer, reading, &c.; but it is the delight of their souls, for they are furnished to, every good work and work. Which brings me to notice the living principles that God has put in them, called the new man, the spirit, grace, holiness, &c. And when under the sweet influence of the new man, wisdom's ways "are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." I can look back and see the delight, happiness, comfort, joy, and peace that I formerly enjoyed in my first love, when I heard Mr. H., now in glory. O the blessed and delightful times I then had in going to chapel, the sweet chain of truth, the precious promises that flowed into my heart, and I enabled to take them to myself with an application! Little did I think at that time of the path I have since walked long in.
Now this is God's work; for this new man is produced in us by the Holy Ghost. And you may see it in our Lord's speech, to Nicodemus; hence He says, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." And again, it is called "the good treasure of the heart," and "the fruits of the Spirit." "The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace."
And thus I have very briefly treated of God's work. I might have greatly enlarged; but this I know, that everything lies in light and life, as before observed of God's work; fear, faith, understanding, a feeling sense of need, the blood and righteousness of Christ, love, the new man, and to which may be added a good hope, called a "lively hope " repentance, that is called "repentance unto life;" God's blessing His people, "life for evermore;" God's: covenant, "life and peace; " His Spirit, "the Spirit of life;" Christ, "the Resurrection and the Life," &c. All of which is God's work, and all of which He freely gives to His elect and chosen family.
II. The fire that is to try this work.
Now this good work, and the happy recipient of it, must and shall go into the fire; and so shall every soul living that professes to have this good work, whether they have it or not. This I hope to make clearly appear before I leave the subject; for our text says, "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." Now I have no cause to enumerate various open errors, and show that such characters cannot endure the fire - no, no; we will come nearer home, for Paul in this text is principally alluding to gospel professors; such as understand the letter of the gospel, and have espoused the cause of Christ, who in Scripture bear the following names: "foolish virgins," "old and foolish kings," "false brethren," "false apostles," "false teachers," "preaching Christ out of contention to add affliction to Paul's bonds;" "such preached Christ out of envy, not of goodwill" - "and, like people like priest." They are said "to have a name to live while dead." They are called believers: "Thou seest, brother (Paul), how many thousands of Jews there are - which believe, and they are all zealous of the law of Moses!" They "profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." They profess to be "bought with the blood of Christ, but deny the Lord that (they say) bought them," says Peter. Jude calls them "spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear clouds are they without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth: without fruit: twice dead." And Mr. H., says, "Cursed by the law, and damned by the gospel, plucked up by the roots, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness," &c.
Now such characters, according to their own confession and high profession, have got this good work that I have been treating of; but then, you know things are to be proved - it is not my saying so, but whether I speak the real truth; and therefore "the fire shall try every man's work;" that is, every preacher's converts, as well as that which they call conversion - " the fire " shall try of what sort it is. ' But why is the fire to try it? I answer, for the following reasons
I. To bring about God's word; for He declares it, as in, the text we are treating of.
2. That His own children may know what this good work will cope with, and never finally give it up.
3. To make manifest hypocrites that are not what they profess to be; and therefore such are called "lead," and "reprobate silver: " The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire, the founder melteth in vain; "
"Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them." (Jer. vi. 29, 30.) Read carefully Amos ix. all through; it is a very alarming chapter: "The sinners of My people shall die by the sword." (v. 10.) And therefore it will not do to have truth only in the head. In vain is it to have the brightest profession, let it be of ever so long standing; however such may be looked up to, let them be preachers, deacons, members of churches,-whether the established church or dissenters it matters nothing; if destitute of this good work, it will not avail in the least, but such will be consumed in the fire, and proved to be what the prophet declares them: "reprobate silver," and that God has rejected them. "Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross; all they are brass, and tin, and iron and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver. Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, because ye are all become dross, behold, therefore, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem as they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it to melt it; so will I gather you in Mine anger, and in My fury; and I will leave you there and melt you." (Ezek. xxii. I8-2o.) "Thus saith the Lord God, set on a pot, set it on, and also pour water into it; gather the pieces, thereof into it, even every good piece, the thigh and the shoulder, fill it with the choice bones, take the choice of the flock, and burn also the bones under it, and make it boil well, and let them seethe the bones of it therein. Wherefore thus saith the. Lord God; Woe to the bloody city, to the pot whose scum is therein, and whose scum is not gone out of it; bring it out piece by piece, let no lot fall upon it." (Ezek. xxiv. 3-6.)
Now, as the wrath of God is revealed in a particular manner against those that hold the truth in unrighteousness, we may expect that such heavy calamities will come on them; and God says, "I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh." "The sinners in Zion are afraid, fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites."
I will, as the Lord shall assist me, treat largely of these fires; and will say nothing but what shall be consistent with the: word of God. And if you and I have been in any or all of these fires, and have come out like gold or silver, it is well for us; and by these things we are to know that the work is of God, and will stand every fire we may go into, for God has promised to bring us through fire and through water, and out into a wealthy place; so that He will not leave us there (that is, in the fire) as He did those of the house of Israel. And not a little satisfaction has it been to me, at certain seasons, only to think what God has brought me through.
The first fire I shall mention is this: a poor tried child of God shall be brought in providence to get his bread amongst some of the worst characters living, and their conversation shall be nothing but filthy and unclean, full of blasphemy at all that is good; and these things he is forced to hear. And it will go on from day to day, week after week, month after month, and sometimes for years; hence you read that "Lot was vexed with the filthy conversation of the ungodly." This I have suffered myself, and have really expected to be consumed in this fire; for my heart is the same as theirs, and if left of God I should go on the same Now where the grace of God is not, an empty profession will give way, and such will be overcome, and will be drawn over secretly; and the reason is, because such are not united to Jesus Christ. Hence Christ says, "If a man abide not in Me he is cast forth as a branch and withereth," and wicked men gather them into their company, and they are buried. Now the prophet Isaiah says, "Wickedness burneth as a fire," and so it does, and will try God's children not a little, for they will lay snares and set traps in order to catch and entangle them.
The second fire is persecution and reproach. This is another fire, and this will try the work whether it is true or false. Persecution will sometimes come from the ungodly; and the more stiff for truth, upright, and honest we are, and poor in providence, the more they will persecute and reproach us. These things rise and fall according as Providence places us; for if we are in power over men, this curbs them, and forces them to silence for selfish ends; but if a leader of working men be desperate against the Lord Jesus and His family, a poor honest soul working with him shall suffer greatly. I am now speaking of outward persecution; and I am persuaded it would be worse still if there was liberty granted in the loss of the Toleration Act. God grant that we may never see such times as those, if the Lord will, for the papists to get in power. The human heart is the same as ever, and if they had power they would act as they formerly did; and therefore we find that the ungodly will censure, reproach, speak evil, tell lies, slander, and do all they can to injure a poor child of God. See the cases of Agnes Beaumont and Lawrence Spooner, with several others, in that account given by Samuel Jones, which has just come to my mind. Hence David says, "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say; if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us; then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us." The whole occasion of their malice is this; Jesus Christ is in every believer, and the devil reigns and rules in the ungodly. Now then Satan will stir them up; take it as. follows "For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise and garments rolled in blood but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire, for unto us a Child is born." The burning here mentioned is zeal for the truth and the love of God the fuel of fire is the wooden vessels of wrath fighting against it; and the cause is, there is a Child born, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence He says, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but, a sword." From henceforth there shall be five in one house: three against two, and two against three; and a man's enemies shall be those of his own house. All their malice is levelled by Satan against Jesus; as David says, "They, shoot their arrows, even bitter words, that they may shoot in secret at the perfect;" that was at Christ in David; and though unknown to some of them, yet not to Satan that sets them at it. Paul calls it Christ's sufferings, because God had revealed His Son in Paul, which brought this fire on; hence he tells us of the persecutions which he endured - forty of them bound themselves with an oath that they would neither eat nor drink till they had, killed, Paul; and how the rest of the apostles suffered for His sake also, being beaten and imprisoned. Such is the desperate malice of Satan against the Son of God, who was manifest in the flesh to destroy His works. Moreover, Satan works also by self-righteous Pharisees, as well as by the openly profane; and such I have hinted at already in the sufferings of the apostles, that were so cruelly beaten for preaching Jesus. And so it will be to the end of time, as I myself well know, for none are so desperate as Hagar's family, and therefore Ishmael shall mock at Isaac the child of promise. They that are of the flesh persecute them that are by promise; nevertheless, what saith the Scriptures.? "Cast out the bond-woman and her son."
Now, what is to enable us to endure these fires? Is it a set of notions in the head? O no! But will: not a reformed life added to this do? No. What will then! I, answer, The love of God shed abroad in your heart; "Be rooted and grounded in love." And this, as before observed, is God's work. But on the contrary, "When the sun (of persecution) was up it was scorched; and because it had no root,, withered away." Observe here, they were once in a flourishing state, or there would have been nothing to wither; but now the sun of persecution comes on-still they stand a while; but after this it waxed hot-then were they scorched; and at last, having no root, they withered away-either into errors, or else into the world. The Lord keep you and me, for I have often feared, and do fear, that this will be my case.
Thirdly. Persecution may come, and yet not from the openly profane, nor from self-righteous Pharisees, but from Satan only. Hence David speaks of the enemy persecuting his soul, enemy in the singular. And if you wish to know who this enemy was, Jesus Christ explains it in the parable of the sower; hence He says, "The enemy that sowed the tares is the devil." And he does this persecution by his suggestions, and reproach, snares and condemnation, accusing us from morning to night, representing God as our enemy, and His chastisements as judgments; suggesting that we are only hypocrites, and that God will make us manifest as such; stirring up the carnal enmity of our hearts against a good God, and against His children from day to day, and then telling us that we hate Zion and shall be desolate, that we are offended at Christ and enemies to Him. O how my soul has gone bowed down from day to day by reason of the oppression of the enemy! Now, trials alone cannot do all this, for I have at times felt these trials, and yet been quite passive under them; but it is when Satan is suffered to have access to our corruptions; and thus in one way or another, and sometimes in all these, "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
Fourthly. Not only persecution and reproach, and wickedness burning, but God's word shall try men, and is called fire also; hence God tells the prophet Jeremiah, "I will make My words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them." And it is astonishing how this word tries God's people; it is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, joints and marrow; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." But if this word were not believed, we should not tremble at it; and though it -is so trying God has promised to look to and dwell with those that tremble at His word. I have found God's word like a fire in the following way.
I. In meditation; my heart has meditated terror-meditating on my ways, works, and the evils of my sinful nature and then on the Scriptures, and what they say against such things; so, that I have viewed God as an angry Judge, as a consuming fire; and though there has been a fear of hating the light; yet I have dreaded to come to it, lest I should be consumed.
2. In reading I have found this word fire; for, according to the views I have then had of myself and of God's word, it has clearly appeared that there was no hope for me. People may say what they will about a child of God living a loose life, but they know nothing of the path I am now treating about. Woe be to that man that trifles with the Scriptures, and can neglect conscience, paying no regard to it, but walking in the imagination of his evil heart! However easily he may at present slide on, he shall one day find that his conscience will be a worm that dieth not and a fire that is not quenched.
Again. This fire of God's word is felt under the word preached. I have felt it under Mr. H. and Mr. B., insomuch that I have felt as though I must have come out of the chapel. O how this word will try us, as the psalmist David says, "The words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth purified seven times." And now I will tell you how it will work. Observe, you and I, as Christians, have two natures - an old man and a new man. And this old man will be continually prompting us to some evil thing or another; sometimes a light trifling worldly spirit will get hold of us, and then comes the fire of God's word: he that is a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Sometimes joking and jesting: "Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient." Sometimes covetousness: "The covetous the Lord abhorreth." The heart shut to God's saints when they are in temporal trouble: he that "hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" Indulging a besetting sin: Promise them liberty while they themselves are servants to corruption."
Thus, without enlarging, you see how this word will try and burn up everything but the right. In meditation, reading, hearing the word, and I add, in conversing with the saints - for if we do not make straight paths for our feet, and that which is lame is turned out of the way, we shall not at such times find our delight with the excellent of the earth, nor, with those that excel in virtue; and their savoury conversation will try us not a little, and stir up the carnal enmity of our hearts. Then comes God's word "They that hate 'Zion shall be desolate." Poor Job was tried on all hands by God's word: "Thou writest bitter things against me," he says. And so was Joseph, as we find in the Psalms: "Until the time that His word came, the word of the Lord tried him." But when we are led to see God's end in sending His word to try us - that the fruit of all is to take away sin, that it is those whom He loves He rebukes and chastens, and that He will not contend for ever -we then prize this fire, because it turns to good account, it brings to close examination, honest confession, humble petitioning, and entreating the Lord to subdue our iniquities, that sin may not have dominion, that His grace may be sufficient for us; and we loathe ourselves for our past folly, and cry to. the Lord with David, saying, "O that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes! "
My greatest trials in. this world lie in two things:
1. The old man of sin in me, that is ever rising up in some way or another contrary to. God's word and will; and there is something in me that falls in with these things, so that I am afraid that my spots are not the spots of God's children, but that I am only an Antinomian at best. And
2. That. God's words will for ever be against me, and that He will enter into judgment with me. O this wretched vile nature What a sore trial it is, and how often it calls for the fire I am now treating of!
Therefore, "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." And we may see in God's book how some have been made manifest. The spirit and love of the world overcame Demas: ,"Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world." Covetousness overcame Ananias and Sapphira his wife. The lamp of the foolish virgins went out, and the man without the wedding garment was speechless when the guilt of his conscience arose. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away; " and he does it by suffering suitable temptations to come, which will overcome every work, however fair, but God's work; "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." Ahithophel appeared very fair hence David when speaking of him says, "We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company." But when Absalom arose against his father, Ahithophel turns David's, enemy openly; and thus he is made manifest to be a hypocrite.
The fifth fire which I shall treat of is, the lusts of the flesh, which fire tried David, Solomon, Samson, and the incestuous person; and if ever there was a fire to try, surely this is one. And though these men (all being the elect of God) were eternally saved, yet what sore afflictions it procured to them, I mean their falls! David, the sword never departed from his house. Solomon lost ten tribes, besides having heavy calamities from God. Samson lost his eyes, strength and life. And the incestuous person is given up to Satan's temptations, and separated from the church of God for a time.
Now, a man may be in a profession of religion, and have been looked upon as a very circumspect and upright character; and as it is only God that searches the heart, we cannot tell but what the man is a good man. But God suffers a suitable temptation to be now laid in the man's way, such as Joseph had with his mistress; and the man finds these lusts stirred up, and, having no grace, he falls, not as the just man, to rise again; but like the wicked, into mischief, and so is found not to be the man he professed to be, by never having a true repentance given him for his folly, but by going on from bad to worse. What numbers of professors and preachers have been quite taken off from a sound profession by this one sin! and a powerful fire it is, which none but God can extinguish. "Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet. not be burned? So he goeth in to his neighbour's wife, whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent." A wound and dishonour shall he get, and his reproach shall not be wiped away. The Apostle Paul says, "Mortify, therefore, your members, which are on the earth; " and they are five, and love to sin includes them all: "Fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry."
I once knew a person that was carried away by an object for two years, and what may be called the depths of Satan; inordinate affection with a witness, and carried on in a religious way, corresponding with letters, till at last it made great head, and though he brought no open disgrace, yet he suffered sorely for his backslidings, "For the backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways." God is a God that forgives His people, but takes vengeance on their inventions.
And I knew another that fell into the same temptation, who was never reclaimed, but remains so to this day for aught I know. Now, you and I cannot stand against these fires; and if we are destitute of grace, we shall certainly be overcome by them, and fall to rise no more. "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
The sixth fire I shall treat of is, the temptations of Satan, which go in Scripture by the name of fire.. Hence you read of his fiery darts: "Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." And it is wonderful how God's children suffer by these fiery darts; neither is it possible for them, at the time it is going on, to tell but what such things as they feel come from God. I myself have been for years exercised in this way, and have really expected that God's judgments would overtake me; for I have clearly appeared at such times to be the very hypocrite that God's word has described; and at such seasons text upon text of Scripture have run in my mind to confirm it, and I have been full of confusion. If the wind has blown very hard, it has come, "Your house will be blown down, and your family buried in the ruins, you and all." If it has thundered and lightened, I have been filled with terror. If I have crossed the water, "You will be now drowned." If under much bondage, "You are one of Hagar's family, never made free by the Son of God." If I have fallen by a besetting sin, "You are led captive by Satan at his will." And if the same sin is slipped into again and again, then "You are a servant of corruption, an Antinomian." If enmity has arisen under sore trials, "You hate Zion, God, and His cause." If covetousness has worked up, "You will be in time proved to be like Ananias and Sapphira." If a worldly spirit is fallen into, "You never were separated from this world." Satan first tempts, then accuses, and then shoots his fiery darts. A man must be well fixed or established indeed to stand fast here.
Our feeling these corruptions arise is in order that we may be well instructed in the fall of man and our lost estate, and kept sensible of our real need of Jesus Christ, in all His office characters: as a fountain to cleanse us as the end of the jaw for, righteousness, to justify us; and that he; may be all to us, and all in us; wisdom to fools; righteousness to condemned criminals; sanctification to the unholy redemption to them that feel the captivity of Satan and the reigning power of their own lusts; reconciliation to enemies; light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death-; life to the dead; health to the sick; food to the hungry; and salvation to the lost. And not only at first, but these things are kept up; for as I have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so I am to walk in Him, which never could be the case if we lost sight of ourselves, and had not a feeling sense of our need kept up in the soul. And here it is that we greatly err; for we conclude that these feelings altogether, have to do with God's first work in convincing us of sin; and when He is pleased to deliver us, we expect after this to get more holy, and more and more righteous in ourselves. But, alas I when the old man arises, he at once contradicts this, and we find that in ourselves we are very devils. This keeps us out of confidence in our own tabernacle, and the longer we live, the worse we see and feel ourselves to be; and the viler we are in our own eyes, the more precious will Christ Jesus be every time faith is in exercise. Hence the church says in the song, "I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar," and yet declares that Jesus Christ her Beloved was "the chiefest among ten thousand and the Altogether Lovely." But now it is, as I say, when the Saviour is hidden, and this ugly monster of iniquity the old man appears, that Satan accuses us, and shoots his fiery darts. Add to this, also, the blasphemous, foul and filthy suggestions that he darts through the mind against God, Christ, and all that is good, tempting us to break through all bounds. I have ere now been terrified lest God should strike me dead for my wretched thoughts. O! if the Arminians had such thoughts as I have, they would drop talking of sinless perfection, and cry to the Lord for mercy every day of their lives. Satan works in various ways. Sometimes by the ungodly, sometimes by professors of religion, and sometimes by hypocrites in Zion; but none of these are so trying as when he works by God's children, and he certainly does this, which we may see in Job's three friends. They were all good men, according to Scripture; and yet they, through blindness and ignorance of Job's case, condemned Job altogether. Now, this is a very trying thing, and very puzzling, too, to make out; but so it is, and therefore Job says, "Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh? " Now, that Satan worked by these is plain and clear, and so you will say if you are a watchful, tried Christian, for you will find that the very charges Job's friends brought against poor Job come to you (many of them) in suggestions, and you expect you shall fall a prey to the teeth of your enemies, and that God's vengeance will overtake you; whereas, he is pleased to break the snare, and you make your escape. I have really had the 10th chapter of Job, best part of it, suggested against me and my dreadful downfall, and that chapter is a part of one of their speeches against Job. Now, though Satan works by all these characters, yet, as I have shown, he continually works also without them; from all which we see the cruel rage and malice of Satan against the elect of God.
The seventh fire I shall treat of is, the tongue. Hence James says, "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity so is the tongue amongst our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell." (James iii. 6.) How often are God's children ensnared by their own tongues! I have watched this very much, and yet it is a trial that has tried me not a little. Such lightness, levity, foolish talking, and jesting; or else such backbiting of others, hasty judgment, &c. O! it is an "unruly member, full of deadly poison." Hence David prays, "Set a watch on my mouth, keep the door of my lips." Sometimes such murmuring, complaining, and rebellion, as is truly shocking; for sin is more aggravating when it breaketh forth into words; and therefore it is remarked, at the beginning of Job's calamity, "that he sinned not with his lips, nor charged God foolishly." But, alas! this fire soon got hold of him, and then he opened his mouth and cursed his day. Now, to have a body of sin and death in all its members, and to be always in fear of these corruptions rising up; and lest when up they should break forth into words, and we should set our mouth against the heavens and our tongue should walk through the earth - I say, the continual fear of these things is trying, because the tongue no man can tame; and Satan will prompt us to join in with the ungodly at the least slip of the righteous, and condemn them. O! it, is a hard world to go through, full of snares, nets, traps, and gins, and we are altogether as weak as water; no internal strength, but often expecting to fall a prey to the teeth of every foe. Now, seeing that the tongue is a fire, "set on fire of hell," what is to guard a light, frothy professor of the gospel? God has not promised to maintain his standing, and therefore he must go down, sooner or later; and such having great light and no grace, are in great danger of the great transgression, which cannot be completed without this fire or tongue. Hence they are said to blaspheme the Holy Ghost! Thus the tongue is a fire, and a dreadful fire some will find it one day, or in the day of judgment, when the ungodly shall be convinced of all their hard speeches. O! there is a dreadful day coming, though thousands put it far away!
From what has been already advanced respecting these fires, let it be observed that, when a man or woman espouses the cause of Christ, every thing of godliness may at that time be in a flourishing condition; as Bunyan says, religion may be in silver slippers. Now it is easy to slide into a profession of Christ Jesus, but to endure to the end in reality is another thing. And therefore such, whether false or true; must expect God's word to be fulfilled; and whether they expect it or not, it really will. And so, more or less, they shall find it that wickedness shall burn as a fire; that persecution and reproach will wax hot, scorch and wither their religion, if not real; that God's word will consume wooden vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; that the burning lusts of the flesh will overcome a false-professor, for, "..when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death," that the temptations of Satan, called fiery darts, will penetrate through the wolf that is in sheep's clothing-for some are tempted above that they are able; and that the tongue will be a fire that shall break out, so that they shall not be able to bridle it, but deceive their own hearts, which will prove that their religion is vain. Now, till the trial comes a man may think himself secure, and feel so; but "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
But furthermore: the eighth fire I shall treat of is, afflictive providences. This is called fire. Hence you read of the children of Israel under Pharaoh and the task-masters called the iron furnace. And now to labour in the very fire, and to weary ourselves for very vanity, is no small trial getting in debt and no prospect of paying-a weak tabernacle tottering and trembling-half starved; whereas our enemies, "their eyes stand out with fatness, they have more than heart could wish." I say this is a fire that will try the work of what sort it is, particularly if when we call upon God no answer comes, but He appears to shine on the counsels of the wicked. Asaph tells us that his "feet were almost gone, his steps had well nigh slipped." Then it is that Satan comes with a "Where is now thy God?" "You are one," quota he, "that has talked much about your faith, but where is it now?" Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble, is like a broken tooth, or a foot out of joint. "You are," saith Satan, that "unfaithful man"; and your confidence now you are in "trouble is like a broken tooth", you cannot feed on the promises God has made; and it is like "a foot out of joint", you cannot walk to God with your trouble, neither will He appear in your behalf. O how this text has tried me in times past! And though the Lord has so often appeared for me and mine, yet I am slow of heart to believe to this day. Now, I say, this is a fire that will try the work, because poverty is closely connected with persecution and reproach, seeing such are crippled. Enemies will arise more and more, and shoot their arrows, even bitter words, and will say, "God hath forsaken him; persecute and take him, for there is none to deliver him." God's children suffer also, if even any of their brethren assist them in a way bf providence, for Satan will suggest that they are those hypocrites that God speaks of, that with fair words are making merchandise of God's children, that go about from house to house. And he will say, "You are not like Paul; he did not eat any man's bread for nought, but you follow Christ for the loaves and fishes; you are deceiving others, and being deceived yourself."
I can look back, and well remember when my soul was in a flourishing state, and I also had enough and to spare in providence; and only to survey the trials the Lord has brought me through is wonderful, for I have often concluded I should come to beggary and the workhouse in this world, and perish after all. And I am sure we shall certainly fall, unless we are heirs of promise, for there is nothing to hold us up. "Vain is the help of man!" "Who is lie that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?"
Ninthly. Providential trials is a fire that will try us, as a fire respecting our love to the brethren. It may not be very difficult for a good man, when he has plenty and to spare, to part with a few shillings, or with a pound at a time to a poor saint; but let the scene change, and let God's hand go out against him in providence, and let him labour in the very fire for all he gets, and he will then find it a hard thing to part with what he gets, even to a real saint, insomuch that he will conclude that his love has only been in word and in tongue, and not in deed and in truth; for Satan will suggest, saying, "If you loved God's children, you would freely part with what you have, and want it yourself. No, no; you are one that can talk about love till the trial comes, and then you draw in, and the cause is this: you are a hypocrite, and are deceiving yourself, and others are deceived in you." And really, what he suggests appears right, for if I do in reality love God's children, will not that love appear in showing kindness to them? yea, even though I may be greatly tried on all hands. But, however, for the encouragement of God's poor, tried, and afflicted family, let the following things be carefully attended to.
God's people's hearts, even in these things, are at His own disposal, and therefore He opens and shuts as He sees fit. If they always found an open heart, they would get into self-righteousness, as poor Job did; but God will let them feel that they do not naturally love His people. No, but they (like others) are lovers of themselves; and feeling these things, they are forced to cry to God to give them an open, liberal, generous heart; and when He does this, they will give Him the glory. But this will not continue, and" therefore the heart will soon close again; yea, insomuch that they will be sorry for what they have done, and the reason is, because the old man is put on again. But they may be under the influence of other graces, and yet not feel a liberal heart to God's saints; such as rest, peace, faith, hope, comfort; yes, and love too. Say you, "This is strange!" It may appear so, but I believe that love may be felt, and many more graces; but to show kindness is the effect of this love, and it is a particular display of power in which the grace of liberality appears. Now let me explain myself more fully. Did you never meet with one that you were sure was a child of God; and when you have conversed with him, you have felt liberty and much enlargement of heart, and in the midst of it he has told you of his sore trials in providence; and yourself shall have many sore trials; yet at this time you shall have a shilling in your pocket, that, perhaps, if every one had their own, you would not have. Now though you feel comfortable, and believe that he is a real saint, yet you do not give him that shilling, though likely you could spare it for several days. Now how is all this to be accounted for? Are you not both partakers of God's grace? Yes. But why not part with the shilling? Why, this particular grace of liberality was not in exercise, and yet you found other graces were. I am sure if this is not admitted, we shall cut off many real saints that are grieved at heart that they do not find that free, generous spirit that they can see in others. I hope I am understood. I am not vindicating or pleading for a covetous spirit. No; God abhors such. I am only speaking of the weaknesses of God's children. Now, afflictions in providence is a fire that will try real love not a little.
Again. A man may be a partaker of God's grace, and have plenty of this world's goods, yea, it shall be pouring in on him, and yet have trials, fiery trials in providence of others, though none of his own; and this will try him as a fire not a little, particularly if he is naturally covetous; for if he withholds his hands he will have such texts as these come against him: "Whoso hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" Again: "That they be rich in good works," "laying up a good foundation against the time to come," &c. And when James speaks of some that say, "Be ye warmed, and be ye filled," and yet do not give them those things that are needful; I say if such that have plenty keep back, these texts will try them a good deal, if partakers of God's grace. And on the other hand, if they part with it, Satan will suggest, "You will come to poverty, you will give away too much; there is no cause for so much as you gave at such a time, less would have done." If such attend to Satan, and so give less, then God's word finds fault, telling such they should open their hand wide to their brother: so that trials in providence, either of their own or of their brethren in the faith, are a fire that is sure to try all God's family. And however lightly some may think of the subject I am now treating of, to me it appears very weighty, and also a. touchstone to try the reality of things, agreeable to our text: "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
Now let us come to God's word to prove this. Look at the rich man that came to Jesus, speaking very fair words, and with his tongue no doubt he had deceived many. But as the Lord Jesus is a Refiner, He tried this pretended work that the man thought he was a partaker of, saying, "Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven, and come and follow Me;" and the man "went away sorrowing, for he had great possessions." By all which you may see that man in his fallen state, let him profess whatever he may, if destitute of God's grace, never can and never will let this world go. Again: Ananias and Sapphira in primitive ages went on very fairly till the trial came to sell their possessions, and then they were made manifest.
Now two men shall be apparently in close union together; they shall be of one judgment in spiritual things, go to one chapel, and be members of one society of Christians, and both be pretty well off in providence; and none can tell but God that they are not one in heart. However, God, that trieth the righteous is pleased to lay His afflicting, hand in providence upon one of these men, and try him sorely; but the other shall prosper in providence more and more. Now the rich one (not having grace) by degrees shakes off his old friend, and Satan suggests, " If you keep him company he will ruin you and your family, and so they all will, for you see what a poor set they are." The man hearkens to Satan, forsakes God's family, goes amongst them that are well off in providence, and is made manifest not to be that which he once pretended to be. O reader! look well to the groundwork; for, believe me, it is one thing to profess Christ, and another thing to possess Christ; "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." "Demas has forsaken me," says Paul, "having loved this present evil world."
But again. The fire of afflictive providence will try the honesty and uprightness of God's children not a little. Now observe, there is in us all a legal, self-righteous spirit, and when we are blessed with much of the grace of God, it teaches us to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world." This is the real effect of the grace of God. But as it is not God's intention that we should glory in the flesh, or boast over others who are weak and tempted, He will sometimes leave us to the workings of the flesh, that we may be kept out of self: and then we find that even common honesty between man and man is God's work, and that if He leaves us but for a moment we are capable of overreaching, taking an advantage, &c.; and He will let it be so at times, to teach some of His people that His grace is one thing, and a self-righteous spirit is another. This humbles them in the dust, keeps them dependent upon God; and many honest confessions go up, and much petitioning will go on, that they may never be left to the spirit of this world, to bring a disgrace on the cause and to open the mouths of the enemies of God to blaspheme. Believe me, it is no easy thing to act honestly between man and man, to those that have life in their souls; for they have got the devil, world, and the old man to cope with, and expect to fall from day to day. Hence Paul calls this very thing an exercise, "to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men;" and trying providences will help this on. Here it is that Satan will come in telling us how suitable such and such things will be, seeing we are so tried; but alas! this is a snare, and will come to no good in the end; for as we measure to others, we shall be measured to ourselves. Hence Agur's prayer is very suitable; "Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." Thus "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
The tenth fire I shall treat of is, the fire of jealousy. This is a very hot fire. Now if we get careless, lifeless, and dead in our profession; if we slight the Lord Jesus and His family; if the world gets hold of us, and we drink into the spirit of it; use our liberty for an occasion to the flesh; set up idols in our affections, and thus backslide from God; He will sooner or later bring us into this fire; and the way this will work will be this; seeing others standing high in God's favour (according to our view of things) and we taken no notice of, but as we think slighted this will stir up rage, anger, enmity and desperation, against the one that we suppose to be a rival to us; for we cannot endure to be cast off, and others have place; but the cause is, as before observed, we have provoked God, who is a jealous God, to jealousy, with false Gods, idols that the devil and our corrupt hearts have set up, and He will provoke us to jealousy even by then that are not His people, as He did Solomon, who therefore sought to kill Jeroboam. Hence He says, "Jealousy is the rage of a man, therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not regard any ransom, neither will he rest content though thou givest many gifts." "Jealousy," He says, "is cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame." Jealousy is a composition of love and anger; for if there was no love to God, we should not care about others being high in His favour; and the anger burns against our supposed rival. This is called, and may well be called, the injured lover's hell. Now this fire tries the work of what sort it is. The question is this, which do we in heart love the most, God or idols? and at last, after much furnace-work, we are brought to say, "Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that we love Thee." You and I are in no danger of getting into this fire all the time Jesus Christ is high in our affections; it is the opposite of this that procures this hot fiery furnacework, and will try us to the quick.
The eleventh fire. God the Father in Scripture is called Fire; hence Paul says, "Our God is a consuming fire." God the Son is called Fire. Hence you read, "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness." And the Holy Ghost is called fire; hence John says, "He," that is, Jesus Christ, "shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." Thus God in three divine Persons, is called fire and so is every minister of the Spirit: "He maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flaming fire." Now, God will try His own family greatly; and Peter calls it a strange thing that they think happening to them, and so it really appears, but in what sense? I answer, in the following way it really appears to us strange: that God should separate us from this world, and give us a spirit opposed to it; convince us of the evil of our way; the error of our life, the awful state of this world, and the dreadful consequences of living and dying without God and without a good hope; show us our evil hearts, the spirituality of His law, and its unlimited demands, the need of an interest in Jesus Christ, and that there is salvation in no other than Him; and at last to bring us nigh to Himself, show us our interest in Jesus Christ, give us faith in His atonement and everlasting righteousness, and fill our souls with joy and peace in believing; so that we feel dead to this world, and as if we had lost all our corruptions, they seem all gone, and everything does appear right and clear, and we long to go out of this world, fully persuaded in our souls that an abundant entrance will be ministered to us into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We look within, and can see ourselves in possession of a good hope through grace. We rest on the everlasting love of God to our souls. We feel peace, rest, quietness, and love to God and His family, so that we are at a point respecting our salvation (and this continued with me a good while) and now we conclude that we shall get more and more spiritual, more holy, and more meet for glory than ever, by living to the honour and glory of God, and bringing forth much fruit. But, alas! the scene is changed, and some or all of the fires I have been treating of we are brought into. All the lusts of the flesh appear in full view, and terrify us not a little. Every species of wickedness that is committed in this world we feel in our nature working up, and expect day after day to put these abominations in practice. This is the fiery trial, the "strange thing" that has happened to us; and we now conclude that the former work, which we thought was God's work, was a delusion; that we were deceived, and that now God' will make it manifest to the world that we were only hypocrites. O this painful path! Our enemies that we triumphed over in God's strength now appear to triumph over us, saying, "Where is now thy God?" and we cannot. open our mouths, but are like dumb men in whose mouths are no reproofs. Add to this, we get in bondage to the law, called a fiery law; as you read, "From His right hand went a fiery law for them." Satan then steps in, and tells us that the son of God never made us free, or we should never get in bondage again, but be free indeed. We are now shut up in bondage, feel a hard heart, and such enmity work against God and His family as frightens us, and we cannot believe that we ever had a grain of real love to God or His family; and such pride and ambition arises as is truly awful. But God is now instructing us by these things more deeply into our fallen estate. Again we try to pray, but are full of confusion; to confess our sins, but know not where to begin, for we appear all sin together; neither can we stay our thoughts upon God. We try to read, but we cannot understand, nor can we know what part of God's word to read. If with God's children, we are not satisfied, for if they are happy, this provokes us to jealousy; that fire then is felt that I was treating of in some measure. But in the midst of all this, God is pleased to visit our souls, and up arises a good hope, love to God, His family, and His truth, and everything appears clear and straight as formerly. Hence David says, "While I was thus musing the fire burned; " his heart was hot within him, and the fire burned. And that, I believe, was the fire of divine love, as the church in the song says, "Ere I was aware, my soul was like the chariots of Amminadab," or God's willing people; and this will go on for a shorter or longer time, and then the scene changes again. God hides His face, and we appear stripped of all that is good again. And thus, as I have described, we shall goon till the day of our death; but at first it appears a "strange thing" happening to us indeed. Again: sometimes we shall feel carnal security and ease for a time, and then in comes a worldly, light, and trifling spirit, and we can joke, and jest, and make free with them that are of a strange language, and this appears strange to us. And now we really conclude that we never were separated in heart from this world, nor from the spirit of it; and when we get by ourselves we do with shame confess all this to God, telling Him how contrary our ways, works, and actions are to His word, which says, "Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which is not convenient; " and as we feel an aversion now to these wretched things, and hate ourselves for them, we go in this strength hoping now to keep our mouths shut before the world. But, alas! in five or ten minutes we are gone again into this light spirit, and keep on it against all our light and knowledge as bad as ever. I have been ensnared in this way for weeks together, and this appears strange also, but so it is, and we feel as weak as water. But, again; it appears a very strange thing to us, that God should command so many things in His word to be done by us, and yet leave us to these evil workings within continually, so that we appear to be barren and fruitless all the year round, nothing but cumberers of the ground; and we compare these feelings with God's word, which says, In all manner of holy conversation." Again: "Be ye holy, for I am holy" Zechariah and Elizabeth walked in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord blameless; "He that, is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Now these and many more passages of Holy Writ appear against us, and we cannot make it out, for we appear greater sinners than ever we were. And all this, and much more, is the fiery trial that is to try us.
But now it will not be, amiss to show the real use of these fiery trials to God's children, and how the line of discrimination is drawn between them and the ungodly, notwithstanding all their slips, falls, and misgivings of heart, which they feel from day to day. And before I begin, take notice of this one thing; and that is, "God's furnace is in Jerusalem, and His fire is in Zion.". And if you and I belong to God, we never can, and never shall escape these fires in a greater or lesser degree, let our situation in life be whatever it may; and if we do escape in this world, we make it manifest that we are not the elect of God, for God has chosen His people in the furnace of affliction. And as I said, if we escape these fires, then a worse fire will at' last prove that the work -was not real, namely, hell fire. Hence it is called a path of tribulation, and it is said that "many are the afflictions of the righteous." And we have the example of Bible saints now in glory, that came through great tribulation. And now to speak for myself. I have worked with open enemies to God, I have worked, with hypocrites, I have worked with God's children, and, I have worked by myself; and in all these different situations have found this furnace-work as hot as I could well bear it; yes, and As if I should be consumed in it altogether. I have also found it in chapel while under the word preached, and also in, company with God's family when meeting together, walking the street, or shut up by myself, having plenty to live on, or very poor; still God's word stands fast; His fire is in Zion.
And now for the uses of this fire.
1. That we may be well taught our fallen state in Adam the first. What is the reason that the Arminians talk about .perfection in the flesh, and living ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years without sin? as I heard a good man once relate, that he heard one of them stand up in a public room, (an old man,) and declare that he had not sinned for I think. twenty years, and if be had he wished his arm to drop off. The cause of all this arises from insensibility, and never having light and life in the soul, never getting into this furnace to know the mystery of iniquity in the human heart. And such are surge to boast; and if we get in their company we can see of what great use. the furnace of affliction has been to us to discover our lost and ruined state; hence the prophet' Isaiah, who was well instructed to know his own heart, says, "As when the melting fire causeth the waters to boil," which plainly shows this fire discovers to us our wretched polluted state; and if you read on in the same chapter, he says, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away and there is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee; for Thou hast hid Thy face. from us, and hast consumed us (there comes the fire) because of our iniquities."
"But," say you, "in what part of God's word are the corruptions of the human heart called waters? because the prophet says," "As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil." I answer, by the same prophet are the corruptions of the heart called waters; hence he says, "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt." But though God's children can see these foul waters in the wicked, the wicked can never see them in themselves; and God's children, having light and life in their souls, see and feel a thousand times more in themselves, than they can see in the worst characters living, which this fire discovers. And it is the same as when you put a piece of meat in a pot; at first, the water on the top appears clear, but as the fire increaseth powerfully, the scum riseth to the top of the pot. You and I are apt to think we get worse and worse, but the truth is this: we see and feel it more and more than ever we did before. Now, then, it is that all the lusts of the flesh arise, and a love to them, wishing to gratify them to the utmost extent on every suitable object that the devil sets before us; and we fret at times, because we cannot do as our corrupt hearts and the devil would have us, in all lasciviousness, uncleanness, pride, ambition, murder, malice, enmity, revenge, covetousness, selfishness, unbelief, hardness of heart, &c. I am at a loss to describe the aboundings of iniquity that we see and feel working in us from day to day. And I am sure that if a child of God were discovered to another as he is to himself, he would be shut up, and you would never see him in a place of worship, or amongst the saints, from year's end to year's end. Now, here the fire tries the man's work of what sort it is, for all legal hopes, self-righteousness, human confidence, human wisdom, and strength, which the man could boast of before, is now burnt up, and the man appears in his proper fallen state; wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. This was the case with the prophet, and therefore he says, "From the soul of the foot to the crown of the head, we are full of wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores." Job also: "Behold, I am vile!" David: "Born in sin, and shapen in iniquity." Paul also, who before thought that touching the righteousness of the law he was blameless, now cries out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death?" You see the "melting fire" burning causeth these waters to boil, and was of use to destroy all these fleshly hopes and confidence, and certainly tried the work in these men, as well as it does in all the elect of God, of what sort it is. And when tried it is proved to be of the base sort, and such as God will never own nor honour, for self is at the bottom of it all.
2. The second use of this fire is to discover others to us; I say to discover others to us, for in this fire we learn to read men. And here we are in time brought to a point respecting preachers and professors. If they know their' own hearts as we do, they can describe and dissect it; they can tell us of the path of tribulation, and what an evil and bitter thing sin is; how hard they find it to stand from day to day the sore attacks of Satan, the world, and their own hearts; and that they fear that, after all sin has and will have dominion over them. At times they will tell us of a hope arising in their hearts and of a little faith, peace, and quietness; of love to God, His truth, and His family but shortly this is gone, and iniquity abounds stronger and stronger in them; and their feet are almost gone, their steps well nigh slipped. Then again hope arises, corruption appears gone, and they feel all right, all straight; but, alas! corruption makes head again, and they seem in a worse plight than ever. Do you feel these things, you that call yourselves preachers, teachers, guides? If you do not, we that have had this furnace work can see through you and those that follow you, and are at a point that you are destitute of that good work which will stand the fire; for we know that Satan is not divided against himself. He lets you alone, but fights against God's work. And as neither he, nor the corruptions of your heart, nor the world, oppose you, we know it is not the genuine work of God. You are made manifest to us as Ahithophel was to David; hence he says, " They have no changes, they fear not God." These are the changes I have been writing about; and if you never see and feel yourself in such straits, it is for want of light and life, which is God's work, for all men's hearts are alike. Hence Solomon tells us, that "as face answereth to face in water, so does the heart of man to man. Here it is that all Arminians, Antinomians, Pharisees, Letter Preachers, Bastard Calvinists, as well as all other erroneous men, are clearly discovered. And here it is we are led to discover truth from error in reading of authors; for if they deny the anointing within, or if they cannot describe the fight of faith, we know they are not in the secret, that they never had this fire to try the work of what sort it is. So that it is of use to us
1. To make us to know our own true state.
2. To discover others, in which discovery we find that they are not and never were in the path of tribulation, which all the elect of God are in more or less. Mr. Brooks, of Brighton, used to say that Satan would dispute God's children every inch of the way. I believe it, and the Scriptures abundantly testify the same. See David's Psalms, as well as many other parts of Holy Writ.
3. To teach us to pray to God aright. And hear we discover the folly and emptiness of a form of prayer, bodily exercise, drawing nigh with the mouth, and honouring God with the lip. Were you once a regular formalist? Did you attend your church meeting, &c.? Did you carry your book of prayers in your hand-read them in church, or in your family every night and morning? And has this fire got hold of you to try this work of reading and saying your prayers? If it has, you have found out that the whole of it was solemn mockery; all to be seen of men, to be looked upon as religious characters, singularly devout, and to get a name amongst men. But now the fire has tried it, and you cannot go on in the old way; hence God tells us how His people pray that pray aright: "I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; they shall call upon My name, and I will hear them." (Zech. xiii. 9.) This is praying to God aright, with the heart, from a deep sense, of our need. Here it was that Peter learned to pray aright "If it be Thou," says Simon to Jesus, "bid me come to Thee on the water;" and the Saviour and he went on for a while till the wind blew hard, and it was very boisterous, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save, or I perish." This was a fiery trial indeed to Peter, and it brought a prayer out of his heart which was answered immediately, for Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, saying, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? "
There are three things that must go together, and that must be found in us. All of which have to do with this fire which I am now treating of, if ever you and I pray to God aright.
Now these three things must go-together, and leave out only one of these, and you cannot pray so as to prevail with God, nor do you pray aright. I have watched these things narrowly, and I have treated largely upon prayer in another part of my books, called The Throne of Grace.
4. The: fourth use of this fire is, to show us the difference between presumption and genuine faith; and this is, evident if. we look at Israel and the Egyptians. Israel had a "Thus saith the Lord" to venture on, but the Egyptians presumed; and presumption is going without a divine warrant but it was the fiery trial in which this faith appeared, and therefore the children of Israel must be hedged in with mountains on either side, and have enemies behind. Now genuine faith shall appear; hence we are told "that by faith they passed through the Red Sea as on dry land, which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned." Could they not clearly see (those of them that had real faith) the blessed effects of it, and the awful consequences of presumption, after they. got safe over, and saw their enemies every one dead? Surely there mere some amongst them that wondered, and adored the delivering hand of God, and had an opportunity to prove the reality of that faith that had stood the fire.
Again. See Hezekiah and Balaam. Hezekiah, God had, begun a good work in him, and into the fire he was put to prove it to himself and others, and dreadful conclusions he drew. Hence he declared, " I shall see man no more in this world nor God in the light of the living. As a lion He will break all my bones, from morning to night will He make an end of me." And it is not to be wondered at that such conclusions are made by God's children, seeing they have a corrupt nature that is so very opposite to the holy nature of God, and calls aloud for divine vengeance; and thus Hezekiah felt it, and calls it "the pit of corruption." I know it is easy to say as many do, O what a bad heart mine is! but I can assure you that to feel it is quite another thing; and to expect to put in practice clay after day what we. feel is truly alarming, as I well know by bitter experience; but God has promised to keep the feet of His saints. Now Hezekiah had a strong faith, hence he told the people, when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came to fight against Jerusalem to "be strong and very courageous; be not afraid, nor dismayed, for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him; for there be more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us, and to fight our battles." (2 Chron, xxxii. 7, 8.) Now here is strong faith. But then if we look at Salaam, he appears to have strong faith also; hence he says, "I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do either more or less." This appears to be strong faith, but it did not stand the fire, for he was manifested to be an enemy to God's saints, and for money would have cursed them all. "Woe unto them, for they have gone in the way of Cain, and run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward," says Jude. But Hezekiah went into the fire, and came out with his faith, and therefore declares, "The living the living, he shall praise Thee, as I do this day." And what for? Why, "Thou hast brought me up out of the pit of corruption, and cast all my sins behind my back." From all which we see that genuine faith differs much from presumption, because it will come out of the fire; and "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
5. The fifth use of the fire is, to show us what Satan and all our enemies would do if God did not keep us by His own almighty power; and this we may see in poor Job's case. All the time there was this hedge about him, and God was blessing the work of his hands, Satan could do nothing; but God intended to try Job to the end, and therefore the days of affliction took hold of him; and now Satan and his allies show their power, and Job has an opportunity of proving his enemies as well as pretended friends. Job gives us a long account of the malice of these people. (Chap. xxx.) "But now, (that is, now I am in the fire,) they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock." And he goes on and says, "And now am I their song, yea, I am their by-word. They abhor me, they flee far from me, and spare not to spit in my face. Because He hath loosed my cord and afflicted me, they have also let loose the bridle before me. They raise up against me the ways of their destruction;" that is, they raised false reports of Job, and said that he was guilty of that which they themselves were guilty of, and which would terminate in their destruction; as Paul says, "For which things' sake cometh. the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience;" And if we look, at his friends, surely they did not speak right, neither did they understand what God was doing with job. In short, Job had it every way, from friend and foe, young and old; wife, Satan; in body, soul, and circumstances; and here he could see through the flattery of many that before in the days of prosperity was hid from him: for as the Scriptures say, every one will praise thee when thou dost well for thyself. It must be a real friend and real friendship to stand firm in all afflictions, sorrows, trials, troubles, and perplexities. This is hard to find in mortal man. So that this fire will show the power of enemies, and the pretended love of friends; and lam sure that, strictly speaking, there is but one Friend, and He sticketh closer than a brother. And how we have tried Him with our base backslidings, and deep revoltings from Him I and yet He says, "Return, ye backsliding children, I am married to you. I will heal your backslidings, I will receive you graciously, I will love you freely." O! when I consider my abominations, idols, uncleanness, covetousness, hardness of heart, pride, enmity, &c., I am astonished really that I am spared to the present moment, and that He has not cut me down as a cumberer of the ground; but he is longsuffering,, and abundant in goodness and truth, and says, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool; " and tells us to take with us words, and turn to the Lord our God; "Put me in remembrance, let us plead together; declare thou, that thou mightest be justified." I am sure, when I get to glory, I shall have to sing salvation the loudest, for I see and feel myself to be a very miracle of sovereign mercy and boundless grace.
Here I might greatly enlarge, in showing from David, Paul, and others, how the fiery trial has discovered the malice of men and devils, for this is their hour and the powers of darkness; hence they cry out, "God has forsaken him; persecute and take him, for their is none to deliver. And again, "Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon' Zion," &c. They add to the grief of those whom God wounds; but woe to them that laugh, for they shall weep; but "blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." And I am sure they will, sooner or later, though God may for wise ends cause men to ride over their heads. "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
6. The sixth use of this fire is, we learn that nothing can possibly stand but God's work. When I was young in the way, and knew but little then of what I do now, I was foolish enough to think if a man had clear and consistent truth in his judgment, and was a good character, as it respects his outward walk, how could we tell that he was not one of the elect of God? But, alas! there are such peculiar trials, afflictions, and temptations, which God's cause and a profession of His name will bring us into, that I know will try the work to the quick; so that we never can endure, if it is not the good work of God in our souls. And now we will suppose a man to enter into a profession of the Lord Jesus Christ and His cause, and the work that is in him shall be a false work; he shall have much light, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in the Scriptures; he shall have a feigned faith, dissembled love, false peace, false hope, much zeal, and many shall look up to him with wonder. He shall be able to pray in a meeting, and to explain the Scriptures, and shall appear liberal to the cause. Now this being only fictitious, he is still in his sin, never purged, cleansed, pardoned; justified; and when the fiery trial comes on, he has nothing that will stand the fire for the feigned faith only believed in the letter of Scripture, consequently he never believed in heart that he was the sinner that Jesus Christ came to save-I mean he was not a sensible sinner, but assented and consented to the written word, and in this way he took the promises to himself. And thus his faith is in the letter of Scripture, and does not stand in the power of God. In the next place, his love is dissembled, self is at the bottom of all; and let God's family get into sore trials, and that dissembled love is made manifest, for he cannot endure to be burdened with them. It was all very well till they needed His assistance; but now his pretended love waxes cold, and enmity arises, for it was all at the bottom buried deep. And as he himself prospers, so he gets more and more covetous, and persecutes, and at last forsakes the poor in his affliction; and he tries to excuse himself by laying charges against them. If he is told that lie hates Zion, he tries to hide it with a lying tongue. Now his false peace and hope are greatly routed, and he is at times greatly terrified and frightened; but, he goes to those that daub with untempered mortar, and to them he sticks fast; those that are in as good or in better circumstances than himself. But, alas! it is of no use, for there is no place where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves. Hence God says, "He that fleeth from the noise of the fire shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the pit shall, he taken in the snare; " "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for what a man soweth, that shall he also reap." And as ,I respects his light, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, what says God's word about that? why, "Take heed lest the light which is in you be darkness; if it be, how great is that darkness!" This never can be our case, if we see all or any part of these four things
This is the true light, attended with life, to feel what f discover, the weight and burden of sin; no power to obey God in His law; a humble hope of God's mercy through Jesus Christ; and at last a comfortable persuasion that He died to save me, vile as I am! Again: had the man knowledge? Knowledge shall vanish away; for he knows not God as a pardoning God, as a justifying God, and therefore his knowledge will never stand the fire. Again: has he wisdom? Real wisdom makes a man wise unto salvation; but he never felt himself lost, and therefore his wisdom and knowledge have perverted him. And lastly, as it respects his understanding; a man may understand all mysteries, but if he has not charity, he is nothing. Real understanding terminates in a real union to Jesus Christ; hence John says, "We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding to know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols."
Thus you clearly see the vanity of a feigned faith, dissembled love, false hope, false peace, head knowledge, light, wisdom and understanding, that are not really the work of God, however fair they' may appear in the eyes of men, and however they may applaud such, look up to them as wonderful characters, and the work which they pretend to as God's work. Yet when the fiery trial comes, the day to declare every-man's work of what sort it is, such are sure to go down, for nothing can prevent it; and therefore the most awful and dangerous characters are those who are well furnished in the head with gospel truth, and the devil deceived them. with a fictitious experience; for they are full of lightness and levity, and never were in heart separated from this world, nor the spirit of it, nor yet from themselves. Hence you read, "They are lovers of their own selves; " and yet have a form of godliness. But God's work will stand all, fires, which I showed in the beginning of this discourse, and have no cause to go over again.
But my reader may be ready to ask me a question, and that is this: "As there is a fictitious work, counterfeited by Satan, as you have shown; how shall I find out whether the work in me is genuine or not,, for I am afraid that I am one of those that the devil has deceived? " You have asked me a hard question; and I am sure that none but God can satisfy you on this head; yet there is a great difference, and if you 'are honest in heart, let me ask you -a few questions, Did you ever tremble at God's word believing it to be against you, and yourself the very awful sinner pointed out? And is this a growing discovery? Do you see and feel yourself worse and worse; less and less able to stand against the sin of your nature? And do you at times feel a cry in your soul to the Lord Jesus to subdue these evils, that sin may not have dominion over you, that His grace maybe sufficient for you, that He would put His fear in your heart? "Yes," say you,:" I have done so in private, and have, as I thought, cried; earnestly to the Lord; but shortly after I have been carried away by the very thing I have been praying against, which makes me conclude that I am deceived; for I read, "Let them not return again to folly;" and again, "Go and sin no, more;" and again, "He that forsaketh his sin shall find mercy." Yes, my friend, it would be very desirable, could it be the case for us to have these texts accomplished in our experience in this world; but depend upon it they never will be in the sense you take them, for then you would be delivered from the old man altogether, which never will be the case till death. Then it is that the Canaanite shall not be in the house of the Lord for ever, but not till then. The reason you are suffered to be thus entangled is, to teach you this text in your own experience more and more: "Without Me ye can do nothing." It is to empty all, and keep you more and more self-emptied, sick at heart of yourself; and you will hate, loathe, and abhor yourself at certain times. And when you feel a change take place if only for five minutes such as a love to God, to His family, His truth, and a humble hope in His mercy, while this influence lasts, you do front your heart forsake sin. But let this subside, and you will find the same troubles, and may be overtaken again and again, for it is God's determination to teach us continually our fallen state, our utter weakness, and the need and necessity of being "watered every moment, and kept night and day." Jabez travelled in this path, and therefore cried earnestly to the Lord, "O! that Thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coasts; and that Thine hand might be with me, and, that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it might not grieve me." And God granted him that which he requested. But I do not doubt that he needed to cry again - and again, after this, to be kept from evil. This must be admitted, or else Arminian perfection brought in, which is a damnable delusion.
Again. Do you find at certain times, though they may be but short, a keen appetite for Jesus Christ, to be washed from all sin in His precious blood? Do you at times hunger and thirst after. His righteousness?. Do you love to hear these things at times spoken .of and preached, and is it food for your soul, though but for a little while? If you say, Yes, this is tasting that the Lord is good - it is tasting that the Lord is gracious. Follow on, and you will in His oven time eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lord Jesus; and those discoveries will keep going on; namely, you will see and feel yourself worse and worse, and every visit the Lord Jesus Christ gives you, you will. find Him more and more precious, so that you will say with the church, "He is altogether lovely."
Again. Is there a thirst in you for holiness? Do you wish to glorify God, and bring forth fruit to the honour of is name? And is sin at times your greatest burden? Can you say with David, "O that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes!" If you say, Yes, and can, esteem others better than yourself, it is because you are in possession of God's Spirit, and He has begun a good work in you. And though you may and will totter and tremble from day to day, expecting to fall away, yet God will keep you by His mighty power, and bring you safe through every storm, and land you in that desired haven of rest at last. Yes, fellow traveller, if these things are your experience, I believe you are in the footsteps of the flock.
And, thus I have briefly answered your question, and may God make it a blessing to you! "And the fire shall try every man's; work of what sort it is."
7. The seventh use of this fire is, to keep us on our watch-tower. Satan is continually "going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." And you and I are apt to get carnally secure, and I will tell you how we get so; it is as follows. We shall have a sore furnace work, and God appears for this, and delivers us out of it; and we shall feel a thankful heart to Him for the same, and tell others of His delivering hand, how He has appeared, and what He has done for our souls and bodies also. But, alas! we soon forget His works, and after this, perhaps, for a time things shall go more easy; Providence shall smile, our former enemies appear more kind to us, and speak freely to us. We, therefore, now, can joke with them, and get light and trifling, and at the same time not bowed down on account of it, but quite carnally secure. Conscience and God's word will at times find fault, but still we go on; and the more favourable things go, as bodily health, family health, Smiling Providence, people kind, &c., the more this secure state is fed for a time. This is a dangerous state of soul; and now we feel dreadful things rise up, such as covetousness, selfishness, pride, ambition, hardness of heart, uncleanness, Now our besetting sins appear pleasing, and we slip and fall into things that would not be convenient to relate to others. And when this is the case, we suck a sweetness from the lusts of the flesh.
Now, in all this we are off our watch-tower; we have entered into temptation, we are ensnared, we have broken the hedge, and now it is by these fires that we are set right, and brought again, as Habakkuk was, to sit on our watchtower; and therefore God is pleased to bring us in the fire again, and indeed we secretly choose it; And I will tell how, it is by my own experience.
Then observe. We are brought to consider the many awful characters there are that profess to know God, but in works deny Him; and we begin to fear that we are amongst that unhappy number; and many passages of Scripture will, be meet to our mind and distress us much, such as these, "Promising liberty to others, while themselves are the servants of corruption;" "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity; " "His own iniquities shall take him, and he shall be holden with the cords of his Sin; he shall die without instruction, and in the greatness of his folly shall he go astray;" "Their feet shall slide in due time;" "For if, after they have escaped the pollution. of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, they are again entangled and overcome," &c. Such as these, and many more, are turned: over in the mind, and we begin to fear and tremble at being left to ourselves, and, having the reins on our own neck, and this brings us to the light. Close examination takes place; a heart to confess our abomination to the Lord is given us; we plead the many promises which He has made, such as these: "From all, your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you:" "I will heal their backslidings;" "Peace be to him that is afar off." And we tell the Lord never to leave us to our selves, nor to Satan, nor in the hand of any man living; to crucify us to the world more and more, that we may, be more dead to it, and kept from the spirit and practices of it. And thus we choose affliction at such a time, and accept the punishment of our iniquity, and God meets us in mercy, melts our hard hearts, subdues our stubborn wills, and we feel humble, and can creep into nothing, wondering at the forbearance and long-suffering mercy of God to such hell deserving wretches.
And, now the cross comes on at the back of all this. We feel bitterness arise within, and much bondage, frowning providences; a weak body, afflictions in family, enemies lively and strong; God hides His face, and He walks contrary to us, and sometimes a long while; we go forward, but He is not, there; and backward, but we cannot behold Him; on the right and left hand, but we cannot see Him. No access at a throne of grace, barrenness, deadness, and sleepy under the word preached. We shun, the saints, and feel as if we hated them; we kick, murmur, rebel, and complain, and feel as if we should break through all bounds, ridicule all that is good, and rush into the great transgression. Now blasphemies arise, and run through the mind continually; rash judgment of others works up in the heart, and we expect to take an offence. Our enemies now begin to triumph, for they can see that Samson is bound, and therefore they cry out, "Where is now thy God? " And good men, too, that are shallow in the experience of these things, that have not done business in these waters, they will censure and condemn us, as they did poor Job, saying, "Is not this thy fear, thy hope, thy confidence, and the uprightness of thy ways? Now it toucheth thee, and thou faintest." "Who ever perished being innocent? And where were the righteous cut off?" This comes very cutting from such a quarter; nevertheless, though everything appears against us, and we sink deeper and deeper, being perplexed and driven to our wit's end, yet all this is much better than that carnally secure state which before we were in; and we are brought now to our recollection, stand upon our watch, and are set on our tower, and in this watching we see many things.
I remember that, one night when I was coming home, I had just got beyond Mile-End turnpike, when a great sinking of soul came over me, (many of which I have had,) and despair of God's mercy to me made head. I felt terror and slavish fear; and then thought to myself how cruel it was for any one to wound and distress one that is weak in faith, O! could you and I see the sore conflicts that they have, I am sure it would teach us to be more cautious, and to try "to lift up the hands which hang down, and to say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold your God will come, He will come and save you." But as it is highly offensive to the Almighty either to justify the wicked or condemn the just, so here it is that none but God can lead us aright; for this tenderness is not to be an inlet for every hypocrite to creep in at with a fair story, very plausible and dressed up. No, no; for these, to suit their own purposes, will call themselves weak and of little faith. But, alas! they are little foxes: "Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vine; for our vines have tender grapes." Now these will say to such that speak faithfully, "You make the heart of the righteous sad, whom God hath not made sad." But in so saying they keep back part of the text, for it reads thus, " With lies they make the heart of the righteous sad," &c. So that they must prove two things before they can make their charge good against us: firstly, whether we speak lies or truth; and secondly, whether they are righteous characters or not. And therefore, if I tell a man that if he is never convinced of sin, righteousness, and judgment; and if he is not led by faith to Jesus Christ for pardon and justification, that he will be damned, this is truth and not a lie; and if he hurts and wounds him, and he fights against it, it is conscience which condemns him, not as a righteous character, but for the want of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. And by this one thing you may come to a decision as to which class you belong; for if you are cut to the heart by a faithful friend speaking home to conscience, if you belong to God you will fall under it; but if not, you will fight against it.
Now let me prove this assertion from God's word, for here we must always go. Hence the prophet Isaiah says, "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because they have no light in them." Now then observe, "Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies, whereby the people fall under Thee." And again, they are said to fall down, and there is none to help. And He says, "Turn ye at My reproof;" and we find that God's family are brought here. Hence they say one to another, "Come, and let us return to the Lord, for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up." You see that there is a falling in with what God's word speaks against us, acknowledging the truth of it; and this is sooner or later attended with a humble hope, and a confidence in His mercy. He will heal, He will bind us up; but not so the hypocrite, not so the false professor; no. He kicks at God's word, despises reproof, rejects the counsel of God against himself, hates the light and the children of the light: and therefore, when Stephen spoke home to their consciences, they knew it was truth, and were cut to the heart. But did they fall under it? No; they fought against it, gnashed on him with their teeth, and stoned him to death.
Then how stands it, reader, between God and thy soul? Have you been cut by God's Word? And did you fall under it, as the man did whom Paul speaks of, that was convinced of all, judged of all, and the thoughts of his heart made manifest; and he, falling down (mark that, falling down) worships God, and reports that God is in the preacher of a truth? I say, is this thy case, or art thou fighting against it to this day? Look to it, for here is the turning point. Hence God says, "Because I have called and they refused;" not by this do we for, a moment suppose that there is any power in man no, but this is a description of their character. Those that fall under faithful reproof, God works in them to will and to do; and those that never do fall under it, He leaves to the freedom of their own will in their firstborn state.
And thus I have, as the Lord has helped me, snowed the tenderness that is manifested in His children to the lambs of the fold, the weak in faith and that it is brought about by these fires and that such will ever fall, under faithful reproof while the others (though they may call it making the heart of the righteous sad) will ever fight against it; and it is the fire that brings, all this about: "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
10. The tenth use. These fires are needful to our praising God aright. It is true that thousands draw nigh to God with their mouths, and honour Him. with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. Now such as these never were in the furnace of affliction. But look at the saints of old, and see whether this was not the case with them. Look at David, and you will find him sinking in the horrible pit, and in the miry clay. But what is all this for? I answer, that he might praise God for bringing him out, for setting his feet upon the rock Christ, and establishing his goings, and putting a new song in his mouth, even praise to our God. Hence he says, "Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; Thou broughtest us through fire and through water, and out into a wealthy place." And this is a "wealthy place" when we, from a feeling sense of God's delivering hand manifested in our behalf, are led to bless and praise His holy name: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies." And all this was for a deliverance from these fires.
What discovers sin? I answer, a fiery law. What is it that makes men desperate at God's saints? I answer, the malice and wrath of Satan, called fire, working in them against God's family. Arid when God appears for us, and brings us through these and many more fires, it is that we may praise His holy name. Hence He says, "This people have I formed for Myself, and they shall shew forth My praise; " and Solomon in his Proverbs will bear me out. Hence he tells us, "As the fining-pot for silver, and the furnace for gold, so is a man to his praise." Say you, " What can he mean by these words? " I answer, that I believe he means as follows: as the fining-pot for silver is intended to refine it, and the furnace for gold to purify it literally, so is a man by being in these fires emptied of self, and reduced to nothing, finds all his wisdom, strength, and self-righteousness consumed in a furnace of affliction, till at last he has nothing to glory in. And all this is to His praise, that is, God's praise, for He is pleased to fill such with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God.
Again. You may see the same in Joshua the high priest; he was clothed in filthy garments, and Satan stood at his right hand to resist him. But here again a fiery law discovers his sin, and the wrath denounced against that sin. In the next place, God's word is called fire, and that was against him; for that declares that nothing shall enter the heavenly Jerusalem that defileth; and he was clothed with filthy garments, and Satan stood resisting him with his fiery darts. But as he was an elect vessel of mercy,. and Jesus Christ had undertaken his cause, the order is to "take away his filthy garments;" that is, wash him in the precious blood of Jesus Christ; and when this is the case we are clean every whit; "and clothe him with change of raiment;" that is, bring forth the best robe, the righteousness of Christ, and put on him, as shall be put upon the poor prodigal; and then Satan, is rebuked, and Joshua is called "a brand plucked out of the fire." You need not wonder at such praising God; hence the church breaks out, saying (when she got this change of raiment), "And in that day O Lord, I will praise Thee; though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortest me. Behold, God is my salvation!" And this robe is called "being clothed with the garment of salvation, and covered with the robe of His righteousness." Such are "trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified."
Once more. You may see it again in King Hezekiah. It is said that God left him, that he might know all that was in his heart; and this was putting him into the fire to try the work; in which fire wretched conclusions are drawn. Hence he declares, "I shall see man no more in this world, nor God in the light of the living. As a lion He will break all my bones; from morning to night will He make an end of me; " and many other complaints he made. The good Spirit then leads him to a throne of grace; and in answer to prayer the Lord appears, turns his captivity, brings him out, and puts a song of praise in his heart, which you have in the 38th of Isaiah; "O Lord, by these things men live." What things? Why, going into these fires, in which he sees and feels the mystery of iniquity in his. own heart, a sense of God's anger and wrath in the law, and an expectation of going into the bottomless pit. Now "by these things (with many others, as sickness of body, &c.,) men live, and in all these things is the life of My spirit." "Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption; for Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back." "The living, the living, he shall praise Thee, as I do this day; the father to the children shall make known Thy truth, the Lord was ready to save me; therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord."
You see the use of these fires, that though for the present they are grievous, yet afterwards they yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness to those that are exercised thereby. I might mention Hannah as another that was in the fire, and brought out. She had been for years vexed in soul with that Peninah, who was very fruitful, while she was barren, which in those days was looked upon as a judgment from God. And no doubt Satan helped on this calamity not a little by his suggestions. However, at last God hears her cry, and gives her Samuel, one of the brightest characters that ever lived, and then you have her song of praise: "My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, my horn is exalted in the Lord; my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies, because I rejoice in Thy salvation!" (i Sam. ii. i.) But let it be observed, that spiritual and temporal deliverances must go together; temporal will not do alone, for if God had appeared and given her a son, and yet left her soul in prison, she could not have rejoiced in God's salvation. Let this be noticed particularly, once for all. Thus you see that this fire is needful to our praising God aright.
I I. The eleventh use of this fire is to prove our election.If you and I never were in the furnace of affliction in any sense whatever, how can we prove that we are the elect of God, seeing God declares that He chooses His people in that furnace? That is, infinite Wisdom sees, knows, and approves of the furnace of affliction, as the most proper place for them to be at times in, in order to their bringing forth fruit to the honour and glory of His holy name. And suppose that you are never in the furnace, you cannot prove your election from God's word. "But why?" I answer that God says, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten, and scourge every son that I receive and if ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye are without chastening, of which all (God's elect) are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons." You and I need these chastisements. We procure all these afflictions to ourselves, for our hearts are unspeakably vile, abominable, and full of uncleanness and deceit; and it is out of love that God lays on the rod, which could we properly see we should bless Him for it instead of kicking, murmuring, and complaining as we do. See the dreadful growth of sin in those that have their own way; and we are the same by nature; and were God to leave us to ourselves, we should put in practice openly what we feel (of sill) working within. This I am grounded in; and therefore what a mercy to be afflicted, chastised, crossed, and our lives made often very bitter, seeing He chastens us for our profit. And to tell you the honest truth, I can find that if I go for any time without furnace work, I get carnal, light, and trifling; can mix with the world, joke, jest, indulge my besetting sins, and suck a sweetness from those things that God's word condemns. But He declares that He will chasten us in measure, and not leave us wholly unpunished; but the rod of God is not on the wicked.
Now, as it respects our election, every blessing of a spiritual nature in God's word is connected with these fires. I have already shown you that chastisement goes along with sonship, and we are predestinated to the adoption of sons.
Look at faith, and you will see that this is a proof of our election; for "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." But then you read of the trial of faith, that it is tried with fire.
Righteousness imputed is a proof of our election. Hence you read that whom He predestinates He calleth and justifieth; and this justification is in the spotless righteousness of Jesus Christ. But the fire attends this also, for you read of being persecuted for righteousness sake.
God's Spirit is given to the elect. Hence you read, "I will pour my Spirit on thy seed," &c. And such are pardoned, and have God's covenant name, "gracious, merciful; forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin." But the fire is joined with this also; and therefore such are reproached and hated of all men for His name's sake. "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of God and of glory resteth on you."
And now suppose you have a strong confidence in the letter of God's word, so that you can lay hold of the four things I have mentioned, you understand them, and apply them to yourself. 1, Sonship; 2, faith; 3, righteousness; and 4, the Holy Spirit and God's covenant name; and if you are never chastened, faith never tried, never persecuted by the world or Satan, and never hated for Christ's sake; but the world loves you - how can you prove your election? I say you cannot with truth on your side. Thus it is evident that these fires do try the work of what sort it is; and if it endure chastening; if when tried our faith is found, it is found to praise, honour, and glory; if when persecuted I am not suffered to take an offence, and forsake Christ altogether and if, when reproached and hated, I am brought out again and again, rejoicing in God's covenant name, and can find my head lifted up above my enemies, - all this proves that the work is of God, that it is genuine, it stands the fire, and that I am an elect vessel of mercy: "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
12. The twelfth use of this fire is to keep us sensible of our need continually of Jesus Christ in all His office characters. It is not as I once conceived, and that is that if I was once pardoned, justified, and could see and feel my interest in Christ Jesus, that this would be settled, and I should be happy, and have no more trouble about it. No, no; this is not the way, for could this be the case the old man within would work in another way, as Mr. Hart justly observes in his hymn
And so it certainly would; and therefore the Spirit of God will keep us sensible that we are sinners; not sensible that we were so once, and are now righteous and holy characters. No; but sinners, and therefore we need Jesus Christ every day we live, to save us from the love, power, and dominion of sin; for our lusts will strive hard every day in various directions for the mastery. And no longer will they be kept down than while there is, a manifest union kept up between Jesus Christ and our souls. These things I have lived to prove. Hence "His name shall he called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins."
Do you then, reader, expect daily to be carried away with your lusts, your besetting bosom sins? Do they struggle hard against you, and are you often. secretly taken captive by them? If you are, this is a fire indeed but still there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Hence Paul declares "that the evil he would not, that he did." And again, "But I find a law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing (take notice, he does not say it once brought, but it is a continual act) bringing me into captivity to the law of sin that is in my members. O wretched man that I am!" &c. And therefore to those that from day to day feel the power sin has over them, there is a "fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for all this sin and for all this uncleanness" that at times they even indulge, which afterwards becomes their grief and burden; for there is a devilish pleasure in certain sins, and they work in us so strong, that we have no rest till we have gratified them, and soon after we are troubled on account of it. O the sore conflicts that God's children have from day to day with this wretched old nature within!
Now this is a fire that tries us much; for what can be more trying than from day to day to be expecting to fall, and to disgrace God's cause, opening the mouths of His and our enemies? Surely this is a sore trial. But then it is of great use, inasmuch as we learn somewhat of the worth and efficacious value of the precious blood of Jesus, and that nothing but faith in His atonement can cleanse us again and again from all sin. And what hundreds of petitions are we putting up for an application of His blood to our consciences, which would not go up were we not kept so sensible that we still are the chief of sinners. I am writing from experience; for every day I see and feel myself worse and worse, and that it is of the Lord's mercies that we are not in these fires altogether consumed, and because His compassions fail not.
But again. It is God's intention to keep us, by these fires, sensible of our need of the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ; and therefore, though you once found in your-conscience the sentence of justification, yet you shall find certain times after this that you are accused by law, conscience, and Satan, as well as many ungodly men and hypocritical professors. Mr. Hart truly observes as follows
This is called by Job "a renewing of our witnesses against us;" but if they never were against me before, they cannot be said to be renewed; and it also implies that they have also been silenced. Both these things are implied in the word renewed. And this is being in the fire - to feel Satan accusing us. He is called "the accuser of our brethren,... which accused them before our God day and night," and to be again in bondage to the law, called a fiery law, and to have guilt, fresh-contracted guilt on our consciences; yes, and to fall before our enemies, which before we did not, for the light of our countenance they could not cast down. And now in this plight we are, and here we must lie till the good Spirit leads us in faith to the perfect, spotless righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, where we feel the sentence of justification again as clear as ever the poor woman did, when He said to her, "Woman, where are thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?" She answered, "No man, Lord," So that these fires are needful, that we may prove the worth of Jesus Christ in all His office characters, - as a fountain to cleanse sensible sinners, and as the end of the law to justify them; and these things will be kept up more or less all our life, for could it be otherwise we should not be the poor, the needy, and those that have no Helper. We might say, I was once poor and needy, but could not with truth say, I am so.
Furthermore. He is a Rock, and therefore we shall often feel our souls sinking. This is a fire that will try us to the quick, and here it is that we are glad to embrace this "Rock for want of a shelter." Hence David says, "I sink in deep waters, where there is no standing;" but after this says, "Thou hast set my foot upon a rock, and established my goings," and this rock is the Godhead of the Second Person in the Trinity; hence he tells Peter, "..upon this rock (which you have confessed) will I build my church".
But "who is a rock save our God?" And I know that the pre-existent scheme is a damnable delusion, and secretly cuts at the Godhead of Christ.
Again. Jesus Christ is an advocate. But whom to? I answer, To sensible sinners, and to such as fall into sin, and that is truth. Say you, "This is encouraging sin." No, it is not; but it is very encouraging to sensible sinners - to backsliders, either secret or open; hence John says, "If any man sin, (not presumptuously, but through temptations, &c.,) we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world," or all the elect of God to the end of time. But though God is pleased to forgive us, yet He takes vengeance of our inventions and, therefore, the sword never departed from David's house, and yet God put away his sin; for He will ever visit sin with a rod and iniquities with scourges, all of which is the fire, and yet He takes a pleasing advantage of these things, in that we have Jesus Christ as an Advocate.
Again. He is an Intercessor. Not that I believe what some advance, that He is in heaven, pleading and praying to His Father continually to spare us, and to have mercy. No! the work is finished, and He, appearing in glory for us, is a living Intercessor Himself. So that the Father seeing Him is ever propitious to us in Him, and the effect of this intercession is felt in the conscience. The pleas are put into the heart, and we feel the blessed effects; but all this is brought about by the fire, all of which you may see in Malachi, and therefore he speaks as follows:-"Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grape gleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat; my soul desireth the first ripe fruit". And then he goes on and says, "Trust ye not in a friend; put ye not confidence in a guide; keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom; for the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, and a man's enemies are they of his own house." "Therefore will I look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will, hear me." "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy! when I fall, I shall arise, when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me." Now, here is plenty of furnace work, barrenness in soul, no cluster to eat, enemies rejoicing, friends, children, and wife, all turned against him; and all that he may prove Jesus Christ in His office character as an Intercessor. Hence he says, "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He plead my cause and execute judgment for me: He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness." And the blessed effects of all this you have in the end of the chapter, so that he did not wait in vain. Hear what he says, "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy."
You see clearly that to prove Jesus Christ in His office characters, we must get into many fires; as a fountain to cleanse, as the end of the law to justify, as a rock to build upon, as an advocate He is our propitiation and mercy-seat; and as an advocate perfectly righteous, He not only cleanses, but clothes us with His own righteousness, so that our clothing is of wrought gold. And when we feel Him to be our Intercessor, we are all glorious within. But if none of these fires try us - the fire of lust, a fiery law, the fire and wrath of pretended friends and enemies, the fiery darts of Satan, and the indignation of the Lord, called fiery indignation - how can we prove the Lord Jesus Christ to be a suitable Saviour in all His covenant characters and engagements, for us men and for our salvation: for "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
13. The thirteenth use of this fire is to prove that God is with us. Now how am I to prove that God is with me as a God in covenant? I answer, by these six things, all of which the fire is to try.
14. The fourteenth use of this fire is, to stop the growth of inbred corruption. What is the cause of men running into such awful, dangerous paths as they do? I answer, Two things: i. God never gives them grace; they are not of the elect, the chosen of God. And 2. He does not restrain them by His power; for there are some that are restrained by God's power that never have grace at all. Now then there is the same corruption in us; but these fires mortify, crucify, and curb it, so that, it cannot grow. See the dreadful growth of corruption in Sodom. It is said, that fullness of bread and idleness was their sin; a good soil for such base and vile affections to grow in. And should we not alt choose this according to the flesh, plenty of food and nothing to do? Truly we should. But God's family have very hard labour of body and mind, and but little food. This is generally their lot. And though all are not exactly tried alike, yet they have their trials one way or another, as much as God sees fit and they can well bear up under; strength equal to the day shall be given, and none to spare. It is very remarkable what a snare this world has been to God's children, through the prevalence of inbred corruption, when for a time they have not been in these fires. See Lot, in his choice of Sodom; being taken with the lust of the eyes; he lifted up his eyes, and saw the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; "And Lot pitched his tent towards Sodom." (Gen. Xiii. I0.) Now here corruption worked, and would have liked to grow, but O! the sore afflictions that came on Lot after this! as you read, he was vexed in his soul from day to day with the unlawful deeds of the ungodly, and at last forced to escape for his (natural) life. Thus these fires stop the growth of inbred corruption, and are of use. Again, see Samson; no doubt to the flesh it was very pleasing to sit in Delilah's lap. Here the lust of the flesh worked; but in order that the growth may be stopped, in that very snare he loses his strength and his eyes, yea, and his life too. It was pleasing also to David to walk on the house-top; and what craft and subtlety he acted- with in order to destroy Uriah and hide his sin, But ,for this the sword never departed from his house. Solomon also found pleasure in his old age with his strange wives, building idol temples and bowing down to idol gods. But the fire shall try this work also, and he shall lose ten tribes, and Jeroboam his servant shall be a rival to him. The incestuous person was pleased with cohabiting with his father's wife, but he is afterwards separated from the church and delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.
Now in all these you may see (and many more in God's word, if you examine it) the dreadful progress sin has tried to make, and the use of the fire is to try such work: "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is;" "Bread of deceit is sweet to a man, but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel." Ephraim was carried away with covetousness, and he went on frowardly in the way of his own heart; but the fire tries this also, and therefore God was wroth, and smote him. Thus He will not let His children go long without these fires. "The love of money is the root of all evil, which, while some have coveted after," (that to the flesh is pleasing, but, alas!) they "have erred from the faith." Then comes the fire to try this work, and "they are pierced through with many sorrows."
Now, fellow traveller, what do you think of these fires? Notwithstanding all your kicking, rebelling, murmuring, and complaining, how would you like to be put in a soil where these wretched corruptions would have full growth, never crucified, never mortified; for God to give you up to your own heart's lusts, to work all uncleanness with greediness; to grant you your request, and send leanness in your soul; to say to you, "He is joined to idols, let him alone;" to take away the hedge, and let you be eaten up; to break down the wall, and let you be trodden down; to lay you waste, that you should neither be pruned nor digged, but briers and thorns come up; and to command the clouds that they rain no rain upon you? Say you, "What does all this mean?" I answer, When the hedge is removed, which is God's fear, or His restraining power, we can break through all bounds; when the wall (salvation) is removed, God's providence, care, and protection of us ceases, and our enemies tread us down.
God is called the Saviour (in a temporal sense) of all men, and salvation is a wall and bulwark. Not to be pruned is to have no cutting convictions for sin. Not to be digged is never to have the fallow ground of the heart ploughed up. In consequence of which, there being a soil for these corruptions to grow, briers and thorns arise; by which I understand, 1. Such turn persecutors of the saints, called pricking briers; and by thorns - covetousness, hardness, and impenitency of heart, both of which are rejected of God. "But that which beareth briers and thorns is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned:" notwithstanding they before this were enlightened, had tasted of the heavenly gift, &c. Christ in the parable declares of some, "that the cares of this world, and the deceitfullness of riches, choked the word, and these were they that received the seed amongst the thorns." (Matt. xiii. 22.) 2. Lastly, the clouds are to rain no rain on such. These clouds are God's ministers, called "a cloud of witnesses;" and the rain or the dew, the life and power that attends the word to His elect; hence He has promised to "come down as rain on the mown grass." The grass signifies people. "Surely the people is grass." Mown grass are those that are cut to the heart, as Peter's audience were; and on such this heavenly rain descends. "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, My speech shall distil as the dew," &c.; for where the word of King Jesus is, there is power. But to these awful characters these clouds are to rain no rain. (Isaiah v. 5, 6.)
Now, as I said before, what think you of your afflicted lot? Do you upon the whole choose it rather than to have the reins on your own neck - to be in a soil for the growth of corruption? Have you ever been brought to choose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season? " O," say you, "at certain times I really choose affliction." Blessed be God for that. It will not be for long, and then you will be out of all afflictions, sorrows, griefs, pain, sin, temptation, opposition, and be for ever with the Lord, whom you have long struggled after against wind and tide, when those that have their own way and choose the broad road, will be punished with everlasting destruction; for "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
15. The fifteenth use of this fire is, that we maybe circumspect in our life, walk, and conversation. These fires are of great use in this respect. What is the cause that some professors can suit any company, that their religion, being like a ribbed stocking, will fit any leg? It is this: having head notions without grace. And these fires never try them, unless it is to consume them like dross, lead, or tin. Hence it is that such live in the practices of the ungodly; their hearts were never out of this world; they have no life to feel the sin of their nature, so that heart sins are no trouble; if they can but hide things from the world, and their fellow professors, this is all they care for. They can cozen, cheat, take advantage, overreach, and feed on their darling lusts in secret, and yet keep up a profession of the Lord Jesus Christ and His cause. Such profess to know God, but in works deny Him, "being disobedient and abominable, and to every good work reprobate." But we have not so learned Christ. Sin is a sore burden to us, though they call us Antinomians, loose livers, &c., raising up against us the ways of their destruction; (Job. xxx. 12;) that is, the very sins they themselves are in the constant practice of, and which will terminate in their destruction. This their way they raised (in false reports) against Job. "False witnesses (says David) are risen against me, and such as breathe out cruelty."
Now as there is such a body of corruption in, us, how is it possible for us to stand "steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord?" Why, God has promised to keep us, and in order to this keeping, various fires are used to keep us in our proper place. Now, for instance, suppose you drink in a covetous spirit; if none of these fires were used, you would go on in it till the world would notice it, and say, Why that man talks about religion, but he acts like us; he is covetous, and as worldly as any of us can be. But God's word is a fire, and that will search us; and such texts as these shall be applied:"The covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth;" " take no thought for to-morrow; " "Be careful for nothing." And we shall be brought to book for these things. Again: if you make too free with worldly men, "He that is a friend of the world is the enemy of God." If you secretly indulge in any sin, "There is nothing secret that shall not be made manifest, nor hid that shall not be known." If we feel light and trifling, "neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which is not convenient." and so in all we do and say, this fire of God's word will follow us up, search us to the root, and cut us to the quick. This brings us (being led by the good Spirit) to close examination, then honest confession; and after this, to be more watchful, more circumspect. When they watched over David for evil, it is said, "He behaved himself more wisely." But this watching was a fire; hence he says, "They wrest my words; they mark my steps; all their imaginations are against me for evil." And I am sure that the more persecution, reproach, slander, contempt, ridicule, hatred, &c., we have from men, the more singular, circumspect, and separate we shall find we are. This is the offence of the cross; but if this ceases, we shall unite with them in some measure, and get into many snares and traps. An alluring world is more dangerous to the soul than a frowning world, or the malice of the ungodly.
These things I have proved in a measure, and we are to suffer if we are God's children, go which way we will. If we walk in the counsel of the ungodly, we suffer from conscience; and if we act uprightly, we are to suffer from the world; and therefore, "for a good work a man is envied of his neighbour." But O what a mercy it is when their charges against us are groundless! And so far from the religion of Jesus leading to a loose life, every branch of it is connected very closely with a holy life; and therefore "the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men." But how can it appear to them? Can they see that we are pardoned, justified, have got life, faith, hope, &c.? No. It never can appear to them this way, for this is a secret. Internal work is known only to God and the happy recipient of it. But it appears in the life, walk, and conversation of the godly, visible to all men - "teaching us (not the world) to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world." This is called "adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things," "for God hath called us to holiness, and not to uncleanness."
"O," say some, "I trust to Christ for all; He has completed the whole work, and therefore what you enforce is no trouble to me in the least." Yes, and I can tell you the cause. You have got light in the head, but no life in the soul. You can see many truths in the gospel, but have not a tender conscience. And therefore, as you know your master's will, and do it not, you will certainly be beaten with many stripes in hell. You really are, in God's sight, an Antinomian, and you sin that grace may abound. The Scripture speaks of such; hence others applaud them, and say, "The temple of the Lord! the temple of the Lord! the temple of the Lord are these! "And yet they will steal, murder, and commit adultery, and say they are delivered to do all these abominations. But all God's elect are chastened, and chastisement is a fire; but the Lord will ever visit sin with a rod, and iniquity with scourges; and the fruit of all is to take away sin. If we break a hedge, the old serpent the devil bites us, and we feel it keenly. As we measure to others in taking advantage, others shall measure again good measure, pressed down, and running over; for though God forgives us, yet He ever will take vengeance of our inventions. By Him actions are weighed; so that loose living brings in nothing that is. good, but every evil; and it is good to be afflicted, to learn God's statutes. "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." And it is of great use to keep us circumspect in life, for God by these fires makes and keeps us tender, so that we fear to offend Him.
16. The sixteenth use of these fires is, to keep us from self-righteousness, What was the cause of the Pharisee in the temple thanking God that he was "no extortioner, nor unjust nor even as the poor publican? " I answer, he did not know his own heart; and it is a fiery law which discovers sin under the quickening operations of the Holy Ghost, which had he known, he would, with Paul, have said, "I am the chief of sinners;" with Agar, "I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man;" and with the prophet Isaiah, "From the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, we are full of wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores." This is the effect of God's teaching. And we also read of another that says, "These many years have I served Thee, and never at any time have I transgressed Thy commandment." Another says to ,Christ, "All the commandments have I kept from my youth up, what lack I yet?" Why, the fire shall try what you, lack; and therefore, "Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and take up thy cross and follow Me." These things he could not do, so "he went away sorrowing, for he had great possessions."
Now in all these you may see self-righteousness, and we are often influenced with the same spirit. See Job; it is said that he was righteous in his own eyes, and therefore you hear' him boast; but he got into many fires. 1. A fiery law: "Thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth; and by the law is the knowledge of sin." 2. Another fire was in his house, and therefore wife, children, and servants are against Job; "a man's enemies are they of his own house." "Think not that I am come to send peace on the earth, but a sword and a fire." 3. Again: he loses all his property and children; this was a fiery trial in providence. 4. The devil is let loose upon him, and smites him with sore boils, from head, to foot. 5. His friends accuse him with hypocrisy; and God appears against him, which is worse than all; "the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison thereof drinketh up my spirit." And what was all this affliction for? Job will answer, "If I make myself never so clean, yet wilt thou plunge me in the ditch, and my own clothes shall abhor me " - that is, my own righteousness. But at last he confesses, "Behold, I am vile." This was the real truth respecting Job by nature; and though he did so much good, this was the grace of God, and so Paul acknowledges hence he says, "By the grace of God I am what I am." Hezekiah also was influenced with self-righteousness, and therefore you read that his heart was lifted up in the way of the Lord. But these fires cured him also. And I myself was in this state to a great degree at one time. And O what fires have I been in since! I believe nothing is more hateful to God, for it gives the lie to His testimony, and that is, "There is none righteous, no not one." And He says of the Pharisees, "They are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all day." This furnace work destroys self-righteousness, and is therefore of great use; for "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
17. The seventeenth use of this fire is, to teach us the difference between law and gospel. Now, if you are altogether a stranger to these fires, you do not know law from gospel. Say you, this is making us out fools indeed. Be it so, it is truth, and so I will make it appear. Now, suppose a man preaches election, the righteousness of Christ, salvation by grace, the doctrine of the, Trinity, the two natures of Christ, a holy life and walk, and the final perseverance of the saints; would you not call this gospel? "Yes," say you. Then I am very right in saying you do riot know law from gospel, for there is no gospel in preaching these things. It is the letter of Scripture, and may be preached by a gifted man who is under the law, and under the curse. If this was gospel, God's children need not go so many miles as they are compelled to do, for they can hear these things preached.
"Then," say you, "what is gospel?" I answer, that Mr. H., now in glory, insisted on it that it lay in these three things
"And now, how am I to find out a minister of the Spirit?" I answer, By these fires. Did you ever feel sin a sore burden? Are you sick and worn out with the sore struggles you have against its power? Would you be glad to be delivered from its dominion, to find God reign instead of Satan? Again, were you ever accused by your own conscience by God's law for breaking it, by Satan the accuser of the brethren, that first tempts and then turns accuser - and lastly, did you ever feel the bondage of God's holy righteous law? Now, if you have felt all this, you might go and hear those truths that I have mentioned, for they are grand and glorious truths; but if you always came away as you went, though you might clearly understand what you heard, could you be said to have the gospel? I trow not. But if the load of sin was to be removed and Satan's reign destroyed, if you obtained witness that you were righteous, and if you found the bondage of the law removed and liberty of soul take place, then you could with truth say that you had received the gospel. And if this came under the word preached, you might declare that such a man was sent of God, and a minister of God's Spirit to you as an individual.
Now, I have found all this in hearing Mr. Huntington. And these three things are gospel. Christ came into the world to "give the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins." And the gospel "is the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth." but it is not the letter of Scripture, "for the kingdom of God stands not in word, but in power." If this power has ever reached your heart, to remove sin and purify conscience, you have received the gospel, but not else; no - not if you are a sensible sinner - but, you shall in God's own time and way.
Secondly. The gospel reveals the righteousness of Jesus Christ, not only to the understanding, this of itself will not do; the man at the feast understood it, but never had it on; "Friend; how camest thou in hither," not having an understanding of the wedding garment, no - "not having on the wedding garment? and he was speechless: " and therefore the order is, "to bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness, where shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." And therefore God declares by the prophet Zephaniah, that He "will punish the princes, and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel." (Zeph. i. 8.) "If so be," says Paul, "that being clothed we shall not be found naked." Now if under the word preached you feel all accusation removed, and a witness, within that you are righteous, this is attended with a solid peace, rest, quietness, and assurance: and your soul will rejoice in the Lord: "for the work of righteousness is. peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever;" "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness." (Isaiah lxi .10.) Hence Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith." But if the preacher is only a minister of the letter, he is not a believer in Christ; he cannot say that he has tasted and handled of the word of life, as John could. But if he has, and you receive the same like precious faith, then he is a minister of the Spirit to you who have received the gospel.
Thirdly. The gospel is the ministration of the spirit that exceeds the law in glory. And the blessed effect of receiving the Spirit is this - bondage to the law is removed, and liberty is sweetly felt and enjoyed: "For the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing;" "And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" - not to live in sin, but liberty from sin - to worship God in Spirit and in truth, with a free spirit and in pure love, which is attended with the cry of "Abba, Father;" so that the promise is made good to such: "Thou shalt call Me, My Father." Hence Paul says, "Because ye are sons," that is, by predestination, "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." O how precious this is! and so thousands can testify. Now, if you have found these things under the word preached, that man is a minister of the Spirit to you, let others say what they will of him; he has the gospel, and so have you. But then you see that all this is found out by feeling, for had you never been in these fires, how could you find it out?
I remember once, some years ago, being very happy and comfortable on the Lord's day, and felt much liberty and freedom while conversing with God's children; but when I left them, and was coming along Holborn, I heard that a Mr. B. was to preach at a chapel in Baker's Court in the afternoon; and seeing the people going in, I went also. His text was: "And there they preached the Gospel;" and the way he went on was to point out different doctrines of the gospel, one by one, and then said, "There, is not that gospel?" and I believe he advanced truth in the letter. But O! how was I stripped of all my comfort, and came out, quite different from what I went in with, felt sourness, bitterness, bondage, anger, wrath, enmity, hardness of heart, and unbelief; and remained in that state till Monday after breakfast, when God appeared in answer to prayer, and I had a view by faith of the victory of the Lord Jesus for me over the world, the flesh, and the devil, and in that light I saw this letter preacher, and knew how I got entangled. Then these fires are of great use, that we may know the law from the gospel; for it is not what a man says, that he communicates to God's children, but the influence he himself is under: "Beware of the leaven (or spirit) of the Pharisees."
18. The eighteenth use of this fire is, to make us, value and highly prize the glorious Trinity as the fountain of living water. Then let it be observed, that God - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - is the fountain of living water; hence you read, "My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and hewn out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." This text appears to me to be applied to the Father. Again God the Son also is a fountain of living water; and therefore He told the poor woman at the well, "If thou knewest the gift of God," that is Himself, as Paul calls Him "the unspeakable gift," "and who it is that saith unto thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water." He gave Himself for us, and He gives Himself to us, and He is the water of life. Again, the Holy Ghost is called water also, and is this fountain "Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, him come unto Me and drink; he that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water; but this spake He of the Spirit." I bring these things forward to show that each glorious Person in the ever-blessed Trinity is the fountain of living water; and when they are spoken of in unity, they are called wells: "Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation."
Now all our sufferings in this world, let it be whatever it will, whether bodily or, family afflictions, temptations, cross providences, debts of long standing, knotty experience, persecution, reproach, the plague of the heart, the anger of God, the bondage of the law, &c., all of which, with very many more things, are all this fiery trial, must be more or less kept up in a feeling discovery of them till death in us so that you never need to think of a smooth path; but you will say, "Why?" I answer, That you and I may highly prize the cooling streams that flow from this full, free, and inexhaustible fountain I have been telling you of; hence you read, "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God." This is the river of the water of life that John speaks of in the revelation: "And He showed me a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." (Rev. xxii. i.) The poor and needy therefore must seek water (long), and there must be none, and their tongue must fail for thirst; they are called dry, desert, barren, parched. "I will pour water on the thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water, in the habitation of dragons," by which I understand violent temptations and fiery darts from Satan, as well as having to do, in a way of business, with the world. "Woe is me," says David, "that I dwell in Meshech, and sojourn in the tents of Kedar." Lot also, he must be vexed day after day with the filthy conversation of the wicked and their unlawful deeds. David again, must be in a dry and thirsty land where no water is; his soul must long seek, thirst, and faint, and his flesh cry out for the living God.
"But," say you, "all this is confined to our being first under convictions for sin?" I answer, No; it is not, but will go on, all our days in a greater or less degree till death. And as for what people speak, and the regular plans they lay down of, first conviction, and then being delivered, and never more having such hard labour again, or sinking so deep when delivered, I say this is no fixed rule; speaking this way has distressed many poor, tempted, weak souls; but it has no foundation; God's word knows nothing about it; and therefore you read that some "go down again to the depths;" but if they had not been there before, they could not go down again.
But, say you, "The 107th Psalm, where those words are, is speaking altogether about sailors." I answer, God's word is spirit, His word is life; so that we are not to carnalize it by any, means. This was one sin of the Jews, and a, fault in the disciples, taking the Scriptures in a carnal sense, and viewing the Messiah to come as a temporal king to reign over the; house of Israel. And therefore, fellow traveller, you may sink deeper than before, or as deep as before, or you may pot; this is just as God pleases; but this I am sure of, the more you and I are exercised and tried in these fires, some or all of them, the more we shall know of the streams that flow from this river, which will always come in due season. Seeing we are planted by these rivers of waters, our leaf also shall never wither, but we shall be ever green, being united to Jesus Christ, our covenant Head. "I will extend peace to her like a river." How sweet to that soul that has long felt bitterness, as poor Hezekiah did: "And righteousness like waves of the sea; yea, the skies shall pour down righteousness, and the dry, barren, parched, thirsty earth open and receive it." (Isaiah xlv. 8.) "For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, so shall My word be." (Isaiah liv. 1o.) Now all this coming after much condemnation, which arose in the fiery trial, and after having the witnesses, renewed against us, O how sweet these cooling streams from this blessed fountain! how it refreshes us! that our souls are like a watered garden.
Again. "The washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost," is also another stream from this fountain. This washes away the guilt and filth of sin; and renewing us is causing the new man to appear again, so that enmity, hardness of heart, unbelief, pride, love to sin, lusting after forbidden objects, &c., with all uncleanness, is washed away and a better crop succeeds - love, meekness, faith, humility, and the heart set upon God, saying, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee?" This stream is salvation: "Of His mercy He saves us." Now if you have gone long under a deep discovery of your wretched abominable heart, how you will prize this stream flowing from the fountain head!
Again. Another stream is life "Out of his belly (or heart) shall flow rivers of living water," says our Lord. "And He came that His sheep might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Then how precious is this stream to that soul, as before observed, that is dry, thirsty, parched up, and has felt much of these fires; God's word cutting them off, as they have thought; a fiery law communicating death to their souls; the fire of lust burning in them, and calling for gratification on every object their eyes have seen the fire of wrath that has come from their enemies, the venom of whose tongues has been like a sword in their bones; Satan accusing, censuring, and condemning them from morning to night, laying snares to entangle their feet, and ever shooting his fiery darts at them, and their hearts like a tinder-box, ready to catch all his presumptuous blasphemy, uncleanness, and everything that is vile, foul, filthy, and abominable! O for this stream of living water to flow afresh! How valuable! seeing it removes all death, and is attended with the sweet enjoyment of another stream from this fountain, which is the "love of, God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us." This destroys for a time all idols, and fills our hearts with gratitude, love, and thankfullness, so that we from our hearts bless and praise His holy name, who has thus remembered us in our low estate, because His mercy endureth for ever " (Ps.cxxxvi.)
Now these streams -which we taste here, we shall enjoy to all eternity.
Thus you see the use of these fires, that we may prize God, the fountain of living water, and be all our days kept needy, poor, and afflicted; so that we may value the streams that flow from the fountain head, and which will flow to all eternity.
19. The nineteenth use of this fire is, that we may be taught the sovereignty of Jehovah. There is no man living (except those that are brought through these fires) that ever in heart can believe that God is a sovereign; and when believed, they never can submit to it aright without humbling grace, (I mean in a spiritual sense here more particularly,) and for this reason - because Nebuchadnezzar was brought by a fiery trial, in losing his rationality and eating grass in the field, to confess that God is a sovereign; that "He doth according to His will in the armies of heaven, and amongst the inhabitants of the earth; that none can stay His hand, or say unto God, What doest Thou?" (Dan. iv. 35.) But then we have no reason to believe that this was a work of grace, for this is all that he confesses, which he was compelled to do. But now a poor child of God learns this by degrees all his days, in various fires, and is brought to submit to it, and at times heartily to approve of it. But O the many fires they get into!
And now to notice how they are taught that God is a sovereign, and brought to submit. Then observe four things.
Let us attend a little to these four things.
First. In the displays of His grace. Then be it observed, that He of His own sovereign will choose a certain number of the human race, when at the same time He knew that they would all fall alike into sin and deserve everlasting destruction; still He chose some, and loved them-rejected others and hated them; and all this in a sovereign way. Now who by nature likes this? What heart can approve and submit here? This is a display of His grace, and it is sovereign.
Secondly. In the displays of His providence. We all come into the world alike, and yet some shall be born of poor parents, and be poor and beggarly all their days, and die without hope. Others shall be born rich, and all their days have more than heart can wish. "God maketh poor, and He maketh rich; He putteth down one, and setteth up another." But does carnal reason say this is right? No; but still it does not alter it. God is a Sovereign.
Thirdly. In His dealings with His own family. Some shall hardly ever be out of the furnace of affliction; they shall be tried all and every way, and thus bear the burden and heat of the day; while others shall only work one hour, and yet they shall receive every one a penny. God is a Sovereign. Some of His own dear children shall be always tried in providence; and while they work with and under those of the Lord's real family, that know their sore affliction, yet they shall show more kindness, and give greater advantage to a worldly man, or to the world, yea, and to them that do not need it too, than to their brother in the faith. How is this accounted for? I answer, God is a Sovereign. Some also shall have great grace, abundance of grace, and others always fearing and doubting, never at a full point, for God is a Sovereign.
Lastly. In His dealings with the world at large. You shall see a family, or an individual, circumspect, and as we think upright; and yet he or they shall suddenly fall by some of the judgments of God. And on the other hand we shall see others that are base, awful, wicked, blasphemous, and have been so all their days, and they shall live long, and die, as some say, like a lamb; and therefore Solomon says, "There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness;" for God is a Sovereign.
Now, in all these things, with a thousand times more, God is just, "righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works." But how are we brought to submit to Him as a Sovereign? I answer, by his own grace being brought into act and exercise. As for instance, He puts us into the furnace of affliction to try His own work, and proud nature in us works strong, and is ready to say with Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord, that we should obey Him?" We are like bullocks unaccustomed to the yoke, rebel, murmur, fret, and complain, and pity our hard case, and view God as unmerciful; but He goes on with cross upon cross. Now in the midst of all this rebellion of ours, He takes the yoke off, and as if He should say, You are "joined to idols," I will let you alone, I will grant you your request, but I will send leanness into your soul. We, fearing He will give us up to our own lusts, to have the reins on our own neck, are brought after awhile to choose any way that God sees best, and thus submit to His sovereign will.
20. The twentieth use of this fire is, that we may learn the insufficiency of our own power, and of any creature help. Now, this one thing is the hardest of all to give up, both as it respects providence and also grace. First, I will treat a little about providence. And, secondly, of grace. And in both you may see the good of the fire. And therefore it is that God is pleased in a very particular way to deal with some of His family, to teach them "that man does not live by bread alone." And He will walk contrary to us in everything we put our hand to of a temporal nature, to teach us our extreme weakness, and that we cannot in the smallest degree help ourselves; nor can one help us independent of God, "For who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?" Then the days of affliction shall take hold of us, and we shall find trials come on, which before we did not. One time we had plenty of work, natural strength, no family, provision reasonable, friends here and friends there; but now, the wife or husband is taken ill, the doctor is quartered on us, children bad, but little or no work, bad living, which weakens the poor body, friends stand aloof, we get a little in debt, then deeper and deeper, our clothes taken to pledge, and Satan suggesting that God is now going to make us manifest to be hypocrites, a workhouse is set before us, and we expect to be there shortly. Now, all this is but a hint of what we have to cope with. This is hedging up our way with thorns. And what a deal of vain help, as the prophet Jeremiah calls it, do we in time discover, both by trusting to our own arm and to the arm of others to get out of these troubles.
Here in time we learn that which no mortal else in heart believes: "That the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; nor bread to men of understanding, nor wisdom to men of skill;" for carnal reason in us and in all men fights against all this, and yet God does not suffer us to starve; but these things are to teach us to live by faith. We therefore get supplied from a quarter we little expected. But this we do not like; it hurts our pride, brings down our high aspiring spirits, mortifies the old man, and we learn that nothing is impossible with God. We shall be so reduced as to be penniless, hungry, and know not how or where to turn. This shall lead us to the Lord, and we do cry from our hearts that He would appear. We meet a friend, or we are led to call on one, God opens their hearts to part with a trifle, that just comes in the nick of time; and painful as we felt the trial before, yet now we bless God for it, feel humble, thankful, and do love and pray for the instrument He has been pleased to use; and if this instrument is used again and again, then we take our eyes from the Lord and lean on this arm of flesh, which God resents, closes their. hearts, and lets the furnace burn hotter than before, changes also the instrument, and appears to work by another. But we soon set this up as a rival to God, and He crosses us here also. He then lets us have a little work, and opens a door in our own lawful calling; and finding strength of body for a while, we go on. But here we trust to our own arm. This calls for great weakness in body, so that every day we may feel no inherent strength, but go to labour more fit to be in bed all day; and yet secretly He gives strength equal to our day, and in this weakness makes his strength perfect. I have also worked with men that have done but little work, and shared equal; and finding at that time a great share of strength, have wished to work by myself, thinking what a deal more I should earn. God has suffered me to work by myself, and I have felt so weak, that every day has been a burden to me; and I learnt that this was that I might not trust to the work of my hands, but in the living God "Neither shall they say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our Gods." Thus this fire tries us in providence, and we learn our own weakness, and the vain help of every man, independent of God: "For who can make that straight which He has made crooked?"
But secondly, as it respects grace, or spiritual things. Therefore, when God takes us first in hand, we really think we have plenty of strength and power to do His will. This is rooted in us all; and therefore it was that when Moses and Joshua gave the commandments to the children of Israel, they all with one voice declared that they would keep them. But Joshua said, "Ye cannot serve the Lord, for He is a jealous God;" but they still (Arminian like) insisted on it that they would. Job declares, "Is not my help in me, and is wisdom quite driven away from me?" Paul also says, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do" All of which plainly shows, without enlarging, that there is a deal of supposed strength in the creature, which God is pleased to bring to nought in the furnace of affliction. He therefore teaches us out of His law, which teaching is a work (in general) of time; it is by degrees; and the more God commands the harder we labour, which we should not if there was not imaginary strength in us. He therefore teaches us that we are quite contrary to God and His law, and He contrary to us; that His commandment is exceeding broad, that His law is spiritual. We therefore hate God, His law, and our fellow creatures; but we are ashamed to acknowledge all this, though it is God's truth, and try to appear righteous before men, and to be more loving, pitiful, and kind. But, alas! such hardness, enmity, and malice rise up as frightens us.
This is the fire, and God is undermining the sandy foundation. And though it is so clear that we have no strength to do His will, and we are foiled in every attempt, yet we still go on; neither can we believe that God wants none of our labour, but only acknowledgment of our sin, and honest confession to Him of the same, which in time He will bring us all to, and we shall heartily acknowledge the truth of every part of His word from experience.
There are four things He will bring us all to confess from the bottom of our souls
First. That we are the chief of sinners; and this I found hard work to do, for my heart kicked long at God's sovereignty. Neither could I believe that God could be just, though I acknowledged it with my lips, yet in heart could not believe it, as God's children do; neither could I see it, so as to justify Him in all His dealings. But "by long-forbearing is a prince persuaded;" and he is persuaded that sin belongs to the devil and himself, and that God is not the Author of it. Say you, "Where was sin before it was in Satan?" This is an impious question. O beware of being wise above what is written! Thy proud heart must come down, if ever thou art saved. And in this fire God's people learn that they are the chief, the worst, the blackest sinners; and God will permit one particular sin to work strongly in them, which with all their toil and labour they shall riot overcome. A particular bosons sin that their nature loves, and against all their light and knowledge they shall fall into it again and again, and be led captive by it till they are worn out with it, and it shall be too black to tell to the best friend they have: and by this sin reigning, (for so they conclude,) they shall he brought, by the teaching of God's Spirit, to heartily Confess that of all sinners they are chief; and the wound shall be opened afresh by their hearing of God's judgments coming upon both professors and profane for that very sin; that such a one, after a long profession of religion, hung himself, or cut his throat; and also by passages of Scripture coming to the mind, such as these, that will cut him to the heart, "Though wickedness be sweet in the mouth, though he hide it under his tongue, though he spare it and forsake it not, yet his meat in his bowels is turned, it is the gall of asps within him." And again: "Promising liberty to others, while themselves are the servants of corruption." O how piercing are these things! for such believe that they shall ere long commit all uncleanness with greediness. Now at certain times the blessed Spirit puts a cry in their hearts, and it is, "O Lord; do not give me up to my own heart's lusts; do not let sin have dominion; do not say to me, 'He is joined to idols, let him alone.'" And all this is fervently prayed for from the heart. But, alas! Satan comes and works on our lusts, stirs them up, and down we fall into such things as we dare not tell; and in this way we find out that we are sinners of the deepest dye, and can set to our seal that God is true, who says, "From the sole of the foot to the crown of the head we are full of wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores."
Secondly, we are brought to a full point by all this fruitless toil and labour, that when the Ethiopian can change his skin, and the leopard his spots, then may we that are accustomed to do evil learn to do well. (Jer. xiii. 24.) Now to go as far as this is blessed teaching, for such are the only characters that Jesus Christ came to save. Hence He came into this world, not to call the (self) righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Thirdly, we learn that He is the only Saviour. For the good Spirit keeps us deeply sensible of our need of a Saviour, and then testifies to us that He is the only and all-sufficient Saviour of the lost and of the ruined. Striving to enter in at the straight gate, surrounded with innumerable difficulties is striving to lay -hold of Jesus Christ; for as the good Spirit reveals to us the Lord Jesus, so He sets us crying, groaning, sighing, and longing to take hold of Him. He is the door, and we try to enter, but meet with opposition from every quarter. Nevertheless, having life in our souls, we are kept pressing on, "faint, yet pursuing." Satan tells us there is no mercy for us, we have sinned beyond all bounds, against light and knowledge. Hypocrites hate us; we are too narrow and contracted for them. God's children often shun us, for we can speak of nothing but sin, Satan, the law,&c., and therefore those enjoying much liberty of soul are not, always pleased to hear such lamentations. But all this is to keep us singular, that we may have a private religion, enter into our closet, have faith to ourselves, and be as David was, "like a sparrow alone on the house top, or like an owl of the desert;" that we may be kept closely and continually upon our watch tower; closely examining ourselves whether we are in the faith or not. Company leads us to talk, and sometimes is the means of conviction wearing off the wrong way. Privacy leads us to examination, honest confession, and prayer; and it is God's intention that we should mourn apart.
Let not this discourage thee, then, poor tried soul, because people (yea, good people) shun thee; but learn to take the lowest room, and wait God's time, for He will say, "Friend, come up higher." And this is no unfrequented path which thou art in. David says, "I was a fear to all my acquaintance; they that did see me without fled from me." (Psalm xxxi. ii.) And Heman also in the 88th Psalm: "Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me, Thou hast made me an abomination to them." Yes, this is a particular way which God deals with us; neither can we then make it out. But press on, poor soul, and you will in God's time ride over their heads; for they shall see, yea, and shall acknowledge, that you are of the seed that the Lord hath blessed.
Fourthly. This brings me to the fourth particular, and that is this. We learn (when God's set time to favour Zion comes) that Jesus Christ is our Saviour in time and to all eternity; for it is the same Spirit that first showed us that we are sinners, (which discovery we never finally lose,) and shows us that we have no power in ourselves, neither is there help in any creature living; that testifies to us, that Jesus is the only Saviour of lost sinners, and leads us by a living faith to lay hold of His blood and righteousness, and in which we feel rest, peace, quietness, and an inward witness that silences devil, law, conscience, world, and hypocrites, and fixes the heart, and we feel immoveable.
But then it is needful that this good work be put in the fire again and again continually. And in this chequered work we area brought to an establishment of these four things; so that we are witnesses for God and His truth, in that we are sinners of the deepest dye, destitute of all power in ourselves or in others, that there is salvation in no other name under heaven but in Jesus Christ, and that He is our only able, willing, and all-sufficient Saviour. The last of these four is the hardest to hold fast. But God will by these trials greatly strengthen our faith even in this, so as to say in some measure with Paul, "I am persuaded that neither life, nor death, angels, principalities, nor powers, things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." And it will take all our days to learn these four lessons, and fully establish our souls in them. Thus we are taught by God's Spirit the insufficiency of our own power, both in providence and in grace, or of any creature help. "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
21. The twenty-first use of this fire is, that we may know that Jesus Christ is God. It is very easy to say so with the lips, but to be under temptation, and in fiery trials, when tried about it, to say so with the hearth and mouth, is quite different, as I have found it when under a temptation. I was once on the very brink of denying His eternal power and Godhead, some years ago. " But," say you, " the Scriptures abundantly testify of this." Yes, I know all that. But Satan can dress up Scripture in a false light, and the flesh (under temptation) is ready to swallow the bait. And therefore, while I was under temptation, Satan came as follows with this text: "God has made this same Jesus, Whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." There, says Satan, how can God make God? You see, said he that Lord does not signify Jehovah. No, said I, I do not think it does. No, said Satan, neither there nor in any part of God's word when it speaks of Christ. And thus he got me to look at many parts of Scripture that had the word Lord in them, and I thought I could see with new eyes that Jesus Christ was not God. Now before this trial, I always held that He was God. But the trial is the thing; for, "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." I got into all this confusion by reading M-sell's damnable book in the Borough, that was lent me. But God in mercy to my soul delivered me according to His word, "They that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them." So that I only fell secretly, not openly into it; therefore do not trust to your knowledge of Scripture. "But then," say you, "how am I to know that He is God, except by Scripture? "I answer, Experience and Scripture go together. Hence our Lord told the Pharisees, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God."
There are four things that will prove to every elect vessel of mercy to a demonstration that Jesus Christ is the Eternal God.
Now Jesus Christ can do all this, and much more.
1. He says, "all the churches shall know that I am He that searcheth the reins and the heart, and I will give to, every man according to His work." Now if He has searched you, then you know that He is God, as David did: "O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me; Thou knowest my down-sitting and my up-rising; Thou understandest my thoughts afar off: for there is not a word in my tongue, but Thou, O Lord, knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid Thine hand on me." (Psalm cxxxix.)
2. None but God can deliver our souls under sore burdens and sinkings, when we expect to go into black despair. And this also I have proved, for I have cried to Him in this perilous state as God, and He has heard me, and fully delivered my soul; and let Him be God that answers by fire.
3. None but God can forgive sins; and yet the Son of Man had power on earth to forgive sins, which showed He was and is God, the same yesterday, to day, and for ever.
Lastly, "Who is God save the; Lord, and who is a rock save our God?" to bear us up under all storms; and Jesus Christ is all this. "Peter, whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? Some say Thou art John the Baptist, some Elias, or one of the old prophets. But whom do ye say that I am? We believe and are sure, that Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. Blessed art Thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this to thee, but My Father which is in heaven; and I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, (which you will soon find out when you deny Me with oaths and curses,) and upon this rock (that is My Godhead, which you have confessed) will I build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
What is it that holds us up under all our afflictions, temptations, and cruel assaults of Satan? Truly it is this Rock, Jesus Christ, Who in His highest nature is over all, God blessed for ever. Thus, reader, if you have been searched and tried, God the Son has done this; if you have cried to Him out of the depths of misery and despair, and He has delivered you, then with Mr. Hart you may say,
Thirdly. He spoke pardon to His disciples. Hence He says, "Now ye are clean through the word I have spoken unto you." Has He spoken this to thy soul? If He has, He has proved to thee that He is God and thy God. Lastly, you have ventured on this Rock, this Foundation, with all your sin, guilt, and filth, and proved Him to be a sure foundation, a tried stone, a precious corner stone. Thus you know that Jesus Christ is God: "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." "But," say you, "how are those passages of Scripture to he made out that speak of Jesus Christ as inferior to the Father?" I answer that they always have to do with His incarnation: as for instance, "My Father is greater than I" - there is His incarnation. "I and My Father are one" - there is His Godhead. "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, the Man" - there is His incarnation; "my fellow" - there is His Godhead. And thus all through the sacred writings are we to understand Jesus Christ as the God-man, two natures in one Person. As man, He suffered; as God, He merited; and His divinity stamps an eternal dignity and eternal merit on all His sufferings for us men and our salvation. So that His atonement is called the blood of God, because His human nature under all His sufferings was in union with His Divine Person: "Feed the Church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood." His righteousness also, being a perfect obedience to every command of God's holy law, is called the righteousness of God, because His human nature all through was in union with His Divine Person; hence you read, "This is the name whereby He shall be called, the Lord, (or Jehovah) our righteousness." And let your profession be whatever it may, if your trust in Christ is only as man, you are cursed of God, but why? I answer, "Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm." But on the other hand, to those that trust in Him as God: "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him." In the last place, all divine worship, honour, glory, and praise in earth and heaven is to be ascribed to God the Son, as well as the Father and Holy Ghost; and therefore "that all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father." And though men may traduce the Saviour, and trample these things under their feet, yet their case and state is awful, for "on whomsoever this stone, this Rock shall fall, it will grind him to powder." And as the devils confessed that He is the Holy One of God, so His enemies that now hate Him shall be compelled to confess that He is the eternal God. Hence you read, "that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, to the glory of God the Father." I might greatly enlarge in showing that everything ascribed to the Father and Holy Ghost is ascribed to the Son of God, but I forbear at present, and come to.
22. The twenty-second use of this fire, which is, we learn that no creature can stand alone independent of God. When God puts us in this fire to try us, we feel at certain seasons that we greatly sink, and we feel as if it was all over with us, for the foundation appears to us to give way. Here it is that we learn the impossibility of any creature standing alone. There is no promise in all God's book to secure any man living in his standing, however firm he may appear to be, no not for one hour-that is, not one of God's elect, and destitute of God's grace. Suppose he is very rich; "Riches make to themselves wings and flee away." Suppose he has health and strength; "Strong men shall utterly fall." Suppose he has great knowledge, parts, and abilities; "Knowledge shall vanish away." Suppose he has great light in the letter of Scripture; "If that light which is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness! "
Now in this fire we clearly see where they stand "in slippery places;" for, as before observed, no creature, with all his daring boldness, can possibly stand independent of his Maker. Say you, "Who does not know this? " I answer, Very few indeed. It is easy to talk, but to feel it is quite different. David felt it when he put up this prayer: "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe." And Peter also, when he cried out, "Lord, save, or I perish! " The angels kept not their first estate; they fell self-deceived. Adam was made in God's image, and he fell; for "man being in honour abideth not, but became like the beasts that perish." And how foully have good men fallen, though partakers of grace! See David, Solomon, Peter; &c., and the prodigal, when he had a portion of goods divided to him, what dreadful work he made! So true is it that a child of God left to himself will fall. But though God may suffer this, yet He never will let them fall away; this is impossible, and for this, reason, because such are united to Jesus Christ. So that "if two walk together, if one fall, the other shall lift up his fellow." The one that falls is the believer, and the one that lifts up His fellow is the Lord Jesus Christ; in Whom His standing is secured, and momentary support promised. "I will water them every moment, and keep them night and day." Here is their secure standing; that is, in Jesus Christ, the covenant Head. He is the Root that bears them who are the branches in Him, the living Vine; and nourishment shall be ministered continually, that their leaf shall not wither, and they shall never cease from yielding fruit. And they need all that God has promised, seeing they often feel themselves in jeopardy, and expect nothing less than ruin and destruction here and to all eternity-even after the brightest discoveries of God's eternal love to their souls. "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
23. By the twenty-third use of this fire we learn the awful state of the whole world by sin. Now all but God's children are blind to this; and though we live in a day when there is a great noise about religion, and you would think they would take heaven by force, yet they do not believe in the imputation of Adam's fall to all the human race. They do not believe that man is the real image of Satan by nature; that all are in the broad road that leads to destruction; that all flesh have corrupted God's way; that the best man living has the root of every sin in him, the unpardonable sin not excepted, notwithstanding all the grace God has given him. Now in God's light we see our own nature, and feel it working from day to day. We see our awful state, and feel it. We see the awful state of the world, and every carnal professor, as John says, when brought to firm standing, being delivered from all slavish fear: "We are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness; " or as some render it, "in the arms of the devil," alluding to a child in his mother's arms. Seeing then that this is the case, how awful, how alarming! and yet how very insensible is every man of his true state! And so he will remain except God quickens his soul, which never can be except he is one of God's elect. As the poet says,
Now in this fire we see and feel all this, and a great deal more. And well it is to be thus taught, that we may "fly for refuge to the hope set before us in the gospel, and embrace the Rock for want of shelter." Such, and such only, in heart seek the Lord Jesus Christ; all the rest are empty talk. But to these He is "a hiding-place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, a river of water in a dry place, and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
24. But I pass on to the twenty-fourth use of this fire, and and that is this: there are several graces that never could be discovered, but would lie dormant, with this fiery trial. I will mention six of them, and do you take particular notice.
First, then, there is patience. This is a valuable grace; but whom is it valuable to? I answer, To the poor, tried, afflicted, and tempted soul. You and I would like to have everything comfortable in religion; and if we had, what should we know about patience? It is "tribulation that worketh patience;" and James says, "Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Job was noted for this grace; and it was clearly discovered in him, when stripped of all in the fiery trial. Hence he says, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither; the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Again, to his wife he says, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" Abraham also had sore trials. How long the promise was delayed respecting the promised seed! how he was crossed again and again in all his fleshly contrivances: "O that Ishmael may live before thee!" But God says No. And when he got Isaac, how trying beyond all his trials to offer him for a burnt offering! and what increased it was, the great affection he had for Isaac: "Take now thy son, thine only son whom thou lovest," &c. Here patience is discovered, and therefore you read that "after he had patiently endured, he inherited the promises." (Heb. vi. 15.) David also must go into the horrible pit, and into the miry clay, and here he shall cry to the Lord, but shall not be brought out directly; for Paul says, "Ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God ye might receive the promise." And therefore, says David, "I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined His ear; He brought me up out of a horrible pit," &c. These long trials and delays are the working of patience; and the more quiet you and I are, the better for us. But we are often quite different from this, and kick at the cross greatly. "Nevertheless, (says Jeremiah,) it is good that a man should patiently wait and quietly hope for the salvation of God." How long David suffered by Saul! and many years rolled over before he got the kingdom. And you and I shall find it the same; many grievous things shall we find as we travel on, bitter to the last degree. But God will in this way try us to the quick, and after this we shall find that "patience has her perfect work."
2. Meekness. Moses is remarked for much of this grace. But it is discovered by the fire, and therefore Moses has six hundred thousand crooked perverse spirits continually to try him; and at times they work him up so that he tells the Lord, "Have I begotten them, that Thou savest, Carry them as a nursing father beareth the sucking child in his bosom; if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray Thee, out of hand, and let me not see my wretchedness." (Nem. xi. i8.) " And," say you, " what meekness is there in all this? I say, None. But meekness is discovered when lie falls flat on his face, and cries to the Lord. I have wondered at these changes in myself and in others. I have felt as hard, stubborn, and perverse as possible; viewing myself as an injured person, stiff-necked and obstinate; but shortly after, I have been brought to fall before the Lord, and felt this meekness and gentleness. So that all heart-risings have been subdued, and I have blessed the Lord for every bitter ingredient that has been in my cup, knowing that God "is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works." I would not have had one cross or trial less, because I could see and feel the need there was of God's chastisements. "A meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price." We are told to follow after this meekness, and to learn of Him that was meek and lowly in heart. "I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." "The meek He will guide in judgment, the meek will He teach His way."
3. Repentance is discovered also in this fiery trial. As it is impossible for us to live without sinning in thought, word, and deed, "there not being a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not," so when we have been brought into the fiery furnace, in which we have again and again discovered our sinful natures, hearts, lives, and actions, and been brought to acknowledge and confess our abominations to the Lord, what grief, godly sorrow, and true repentance has the blessed Spirit wrought in us! How we have loathed ourselves in our own sight for our iniquities as Ephraim did: "After I was turned, I repented; I smote upon my thigh, I was ashamed," &c.; and as David in, the 51st Psalm!
None knows but God's afflicted family what a real wishing of that undone that is done at such seasons, and a justifying the Almighty in all His dealings towards us; heartily confessing the truth of His word, that "from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head we are full of wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores." And this repentance is attended with a full persuasion of our interest in Jesus Christ at certain seasons. It is the goodness of God in heaping His favours upon us, both in providence and in grace, that leads us (such worthless wretches) to repentance.
4. Humility. It is God's intention by these fiery trials to bring us down in the dust; and here we discover (in time) the grace of humility. But let it be observed, once for all, that the trials we have, abstractedly, will do none of these things. But God is pleased so to manage matters that these graces are produced and clearly discovered more and more. This humility never grows in nature's garden; and this God shows us, by discovering in the fiery trial the wretched pride of our hearts, that we would submit to no man, do, nor to God Himself. This is your nature and mine, whether you know it or not. He therefore heats the furnace (which is only in Zion) hotter and hotter, and brings down our hearts with labour. He, after this discovers His love to our souls, and then we are truly humble, teachable, and tractable, like little children. "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time."
5. Hope of God's mercy is discovered in this fiery trial. These trials are to discover clearly to us that we are completely lost in the fall, being the express image of Satan; and there is now nothing left but this, whether God will extend His mercy to us or not. Here is the turning point; and whether He will or not we cannot tell; but every now and then a little hope rises up, but we are soon overwhelmed again and sink lower than ever. Neither can we believe that He will ever have mercy on us, for we appear monsters in sin against light and knowledge. But though we border upon black despair, yet this little hope, after much desertion will arise, and "we are saved by hope;" and in God's own time shall abound in hope, as I have lived to prove, having waded through these deep waters, and afterwards been brought to "rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
Lastly. In all these things the grace of God's fear is greatly discovered; for we shun worldly company, and like to be alone, and feel very tender in our souls, jealous over ourselves for fear of being deceived, and would rather suffer anything than come short. Such walk cautiously, and look well to their way. Every little thing said or done wounds and distresses them, which is a painful but safe path. Now, all this is highly spoken of in God's word. Hence you read "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil," pride, and arrogancy. It is the beginning of wisdom; it is God's treasure put in the heart; it tendeth to life at first, and will be a fountain of life to all eternity. Therefore says Solomon, "My son, be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long." It comes to us, as well as all other graces, from our covenant Head, Jesus Christ. Hence you read that He exercised this grace; "He was heard in that He feared." And again: "And upon Him shall rest the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord." (Isaiah xi. 2.)
25. But I come now to the twenty-fifth and last use of this fire, and that is this: it is to lead us minutely to watch the Lord's hand and handy works in His dealings towards us, both in providence and grace. Of this, therefore, I shall treat a little, and close the subject with a few remarks respecting my own personal experience of what I have been writing. Then, let it be observed, that as the salvation of our souls is our greatest concern, this we feel very earnest about, but innumerable are the things that we overlook, and conclude that God takes no notice of such small trifling things, but leaves-many of them to us to manage as well as we can. But if you have been long in the school of Christ, you have learnt better than this; and therefore He brings us into such straits as, with all our fleshly wisdom or the help of others, we cannot make out: and these are painful lessons to learn. We are blind, and feel it, and He is bringing us in a way we know not, and leading us in paths which we before never knew; and it is called darkness, but in God's time shall be light; and though everything appears crooked and rough, yet these crooked things shall be made straight, and these rough places plain. But this is hedging up our way with thorns, and we try to go in the old way with respect to temporal supplies, but we cannot, for God walks contrary to us, and crosses us in all we put our hands to; and this is done to bring us off from all confidence in the flesh, and to lead us in a particular way to watch His blessed hand. But the soul must be greatly humbled before lie can choose such a path, because it is so very opposite to the flesh. Flesh says, "Let me see how I am going on; "but faith trusts a naked promise
It is, therefore, in this furnace we learn, as respects our temporal supplies, that no men are any more to us than Goad makes them; that all hearts are in His hand, and at His disposal; He turns enemies into friends, and those that appear friends into His enemies. We lean on this and that prop that formerly we found useful, but God takes them away. We trust to this and that friend, and they greatly deceive and disappoint us. At this we wonder; but God in letting us know that we are hewing out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water; and as He increases our faith, so He removes these props. But we are continually trying to set them up, so foolish and weak are we; yet He will in this way bring us to commit every individual thing into His hand: "In everything with supplication and thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." "I suffered thee to know hunger, that thou mightest know that man doth not live by bread alone." And really it is a sweet path when we get well instructed in it. But O what hard lessons are these to learn, for the flesh kicks hard against it all desperately: "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." And though in the morning our petitions were to be kept dead to this world and crucified to it, yet when God is answering that very prayer, in embittering this world to us, then is our nature stirred up to oppose God in all His works and ways. But we shall reap advantage by all these things, for we shall be well acquainted with ourselves; the deceitfullness, treachery, and hypocrisy of our hearts; the pride, enmity, hardness, rebellion, and unbelief of them, which will be the means of keeping us from trusting in them. And as we try one friend after another, and find they deceive us, we shall be brought to prove the real love of that "Friend that loveth at all times, and that sticketh closer than a brother." Plenty of strength to work, and none to do; plenty to do, and as weak as water; a prospect of a good week's work shall turn to but little; and perhaps going cross in the work above half the week, shall turn out a very good week's wages; when supplies in the work cease we shall get into great straits; God raises up a friend here and a friend there, that we little thought of, and opens their hearts, so that we are kept from starving.
After this, work comes again, and at the back of this it ceases. Now we think of our former friends, and fain would lean there. But God sometimes will shut that door, lest we should trust in a friend: and thus He humbles, mortifies, and, empties us from vessel to vessel, and will bring down our proud hearts to be very thankful for a meal of victuals, both to Him and the instrument. But it is just the same also in spiritual concerns. He will let us know that without Him we can do nothing, and therefore having much time, we shall try to read, but cannot understand, nor keep our minds stayed; - to pray, but it appears only talk and empty words; - to hear the word, but we are like the door on its hinges; - to converse with God's children, but we are straitened to meditate, and the world takes all our thoughts. And what is all this for? why, to teach us that we have no hand in the good work, no not in the least; "not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is entirely of God," in every sense of the word; and when we are well taught these lessons, we bless God that we can do nothing. We "glory in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on us." And this hard labour in working is turned to praying, and we begin now to gain ground, for really our working arm stands in the way. Hence it is that when our power is all gone, and there is none shut up, nor left, that the Lord will appear, for "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." But again, we shall be tried sorely, having to work hard from morning to night, not having time to read, hear, or converse with God's children; still we shall be all on the stretch for heavenly things, and feel our hearts to be right with God. This is the way God is pleased to frustrate all our plans, bringing us to place all our trust and confidence in Himself alone. Jacob must leave his father's house and serve Laban twenty years, to teach him to live by faith, and indeed all the patriarchs also; so that it is no new path. The children of Israel being typical of God's elect, travelled in this path forty years together. And if we come to the New Testament, there we find that the disciples must go out without purse or scrip, but they lacked nothing. And Moses declared that God was nigh to them in all things which they called upon Him for; and this really is calculated, yea, and it will in time greatly encourage us to go on the same way "to a throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need." "For the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
I am now, according to promise, to close the subject with a few remarks respecting my own personal experience. Then let it be observed that I have been in all these fires more or less, and have sunk so low (even after knowing God as my covenant God and Father) as never in the least to expect to arise more, but that I should sink in black despair, as some living with me can also bear witness, and which is particularly written in my experience books. And yet here I am to this day, though tried in providence, tried with a large family, entangled in debts, hated by men and despised, reproached, censured, and condemned-knotty experience of soul, fiery darts from Satan, with various snares and traps laid for my feet. Yet though all has appeared against me, I have lived to see all the storm blow over as it respects soul matters; and He has stood by me in all straits and difficulties, and discovered His everlasting love to my soul, looking upon me in mercy when there was no eye to pity, nor hand to help; and has and does teach me that I cannot do without trials, because I am a son; and "what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?" And I firmly believe that every cross, trial, temptation, and affliction, let it he whatever it may; inward, or outward, has all been out of pure love to my soul and that I could not possibly have done with one less that all I have had has been little enough to keep me within bounds, or in my proper place, so that I can say with David, "He hath not dealt with one after my sins, nor rewarded me according to mine iniquities;" but has born with all, my base, vile, and abominable backslidings, and deep revoltings from Him the best of Fathers. And though I have so often forsaken Him, He has never once left me altogether; but at the worst, when ready to give up all for lost, has softened my hard heart, brought down my pride, given me a heart to acknowledge and confess my sin again and again, and then discovered His tender love and mercy to my soul, which has melted me down in the dust, and made me hate, loathe, and abhor myself, repenting in dust and ashes, wondering at His long-suffering mercy to my worthless soul. He has also by these things established my soul in a rich experience of His truth, such as the fall of man wholly and altogether, and that from bitter experience; also my utter inability in the smallest measure, even to this day, to help myself; the need of momentary support; that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour of lost sinners. And through rich mercy and grace I can say, without presumption, He is my God and Saviour, having saved me with an everlasting salvation, and has declared that I shall "not be ashamed, nor confounded, world without end."
And now I feel nature break more and more, not with age, but so it is. The outward man does greatly perish; yet believing my interest in Christ Jesus, does enable me also to say with Paul, that lately the inner man has been renewed day by day; for I have meditated much on my end, and really conclude it will not be long. And how precious does the everlasting gospel appear to me, and the thoughts of soon being with the spirits of just men made perfect! These things have removed that slavish fear of death and judgment; and the way has lately appeared as clear as the sun, attended with a sweet peace, rest, quietness, and a great deadness to the world, though I am not without changes; and if I lose the enjoyment of it for awhile, yet, bless God, I soon find a revival again.
What a blessed thing it is, poor tried, weak, tempted, despised, and dejected follower of the Lord Jesus, that the Saviour you trust can be touched with the feeling of your infirmities, and knows how to succour you! "He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax;" and though you may have waited long, yet He will be faithful to His word, for He has declared "They shall not be ashamed that wait for Him." There is every encouragement in God's word for you, but nothing against you, though you often conclude there is; and it does not depend upon you in the smallest measure, but upon Him who is the Faithful and True Witness; and who having paid the ransom price of redemption, will see all His family brought safe home. "Father, I will that those whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory." Yes, not a hoof shall be left behind. And who are they? Why, the poor, the halt, the lame, the maimed, and the blind; yes, the foolish things of this world, the base, those that are lightly esteemed, those that are despised, and those that are not; and they shall all around the throne celebrate the perfections of God, and sing to all eternity, "Unto Him that hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in His blood, and made us kings and priests unto God, to Him be glory, honour, dominion, and power, forever and ever!"
Thus I have gone through the subject. God grant that it may be useful to those that may read it, who are often in these fires. And may they remember this, that ere long they will be out of it all; and this promise, and with which I shall conclude, shall have its accomplishment in their souls' experience, namely, "The ransomed of the Lord shall return to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy on their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing (which they ever will have here) shall flee away."
That you and I, reader, may be found among that blessed number, God grant it for Jesus Christ's sake; to Whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, for ever and ever. Amen and Amen.