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Of particular communion with the Holy Ghost — Of preparation thereunto — Valuation of the benefits we receive by him — What it is he comforts us in and against; wherewith; how.
The way being thus made plain for us, I come to show how we hold particular communion with the Holy Ghost, as he is promised of Christ to be our comforter, and as working out our consolation by the means formerly insisted on. Now, the first thing I shall do herein, is the proposal of that which may be some preparation to the duty under consideration; and this by leading the souls of believers to a due valuation of this work of his towards us, whence he is called our Comforter.
To raise up our hearts to this frame, and fit us for the duty intended, let us consider these three things:—
First, What it is he comforts us against.
Secondly, Wherewith he comforts us.
Thirdly, The principle of all his actings and operations in us for our consolation.
First. There are but three things in the whole course of our pilgrimage that the consolations of the Holy Ghost are useful and necessary in:—
1. In our afflictions. Affliction is part of the provision that God hath made in his house for his children, Heb. xii. 5, 6. The great variety of its causes, means, uses, and effects, is generally known. There is a measure of them appointed for every one. To be wholly without them is a temptation; and so in some measure an affliction. That which I am to speak unto is, that in all our afflictions we need the consolations of the Holy Ghost. It is the nature of man to relieve himself, when he is entangled, by all ways and means. According as men’s natural spirits are, so do they manage themselves under pressures. “The spirit of a man will bear his infirmity;” at least, will struggle with it.
There are two great evils, one of which doth generally seize on men under their afflictions, and keep them from a due management of them. The apostle mentioneth them both, Heb. xii. 5, Μὴ ὀλιγώρει παιδείας Κυρίου, μηδὲ ἐκλύου, ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ ἐλεγχόμενος, — “Despise not the chastisement of the Lord; neither faint when thou art reproved.” One of these extremes do men usually fall into; either they despise the Lord’s correction, or sink under it.
(1.) Men despise it. They account that which befalls them to be a light or common thing; they take no notice of God in it; they can 260shift with it well enough: they look on instruments, second causes; provide for their own defence and vindication with little regard to God or his hand in their affliction. And the ground of this is, because they take in succours, in their trouble, that God will not mix his grace withal; they fix on other remedies than what he hath appointed, and utterly lose all the benefits and advantage of their affliction. And so shall every man do that relieves himself from any thing but the consolations of the Holy Ghost.
(2.) Men faint and sink under their trials and afflictions; which the apostle farther reproves, verse 12. The first despise the assistance of the Holy Ghost through pride of heart; the latter refuse it through dejectedness of spirit, and sink under the weight of their troubles. And who, almost, is there that offends not on one of these hands? Had we not learned to count light of the chastisements of the Lord, and to take little notice of his dealings with us, we should find the season of our afflictions to comprise no small portion of our pilgrimage.
Now, there is no due management of our souls under any affliction, so that God may have the glory of it, and ourselves any spiritual benefit or improvement thereby, but by the consolations of the Holy Ghost. All that our Saviour promiseth his disciples, when he tells them of the great trials and tribulations they were to undergo, is, “I will send you the Spirit, the Comforter; he shall give you peace in me, when in the world you shall have trouble. He shall guide and direct, and keep you in all your trials.” And so, the apostle tells us, it came to pass, 2 Cor. i. 4–6; yea, and this, under the greatest afflictions, will carry the soul to the highest joy, peace, rest, and contentment. So the same apostle, Rom. v. 3, “We glory in tribulations.” It is a great expression. He had said before, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” verse 2. Yea, but what if manifold afflictions and tribulations befall us? “Why, even in them also we glory,” saith he; “we glory in our tribulations.” But whence is it that our spirits are so borne up to a due management of afflictions, as to glory in them in the Lord? He tells us, verse 5, it is from the “shedding abroad of the love of God in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” And thence are believers said to “receive the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost,” 1 Thess. i. 6; and to “take joyfully the spoiling of their goods.” This is that I aim at:— there is no management nor improvement of any affliction, but merely and solely by the consolations of the Holy Ghost. Is it, then, of any esteem or value unto you that you lose not all your trials, temptations, and affliction? — learn to value that whereby alone they are rendered useful.
2. Sin is the second burden of our lives, and much the greatest. 261Unto this is this consolation peculiarly suited. So Heb. vi. 17, 18, an allusion is taken from the manslayer under the law, who, having killed a man unawares, and brought the guilt of his blood upon himself, fled with speed for his deliverance to the city of refuge. Our great and only refuge from the guilt of sin is the Lord Jesus Christ; in our flying to him, doth the Spirit administer consolation to us. A sense of sin fills the heart with troubles and disquietness; it is the Holy Ghost which gives us peace in Christ; — that gives an apprehension of wrath; the Holy Ghost sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts; — from thence doth Satan and the law accuse us, as objects of God’s hatred; the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. There is not any one engine or instrument that sin useth or sets up against our peace, but one effect or other of the Holy Ghost towards us is suited and fitted to the casting of it down.
3. In the whole course of our obedience are his consolations necessary also, that we may go through with it cheerfully, willingly, patiently to the end. This will afterward be more fully discovered, as to particulars, when I come to give directions for our communion with this blessed Comforter. In a word, in all the concernments of this life, and in our whole expectation of another, we stand in need of the consolations of the Holy Ghost.
Without them, we shall either despise afflictions or faint under them, and God be neglected as to his intendments in them.
Without them, sin will either harden us to a contempt of it, or cast us down to a neglect of the remedies graciously provided against it.
Without them, duties will either puff us up with pride, or leave us without that sweetness which is in new obedience.
Without them, prosperity will make us carnal, sensual, and to take up our contentment in these things, and utterly weaken us for the trials of adversity.
Without them, the comforts of our relations will separate us from God, and the loss of them make our hearts as Nabal’s.
Without them, the calamity of the church will overwhelm us, and the prosperity of the church will not concern us.
Without them, we shall have wisdom for no work, peace in no condition, strength for no duty, success in no trial, joy in no state, — no comfort in life, no light in death.
Now, our afflictions, our sins, and our obedience, with the attendancies of them respectively, are the great concernments of our lives. What we are in reference unto God is comprised in them, and the due management of them, with their contraries, which come under the same rule; through all these doth there run a line of consolation from the Holy Ghost, that gives us a joyful issue throughout. How 262sad is the condition of poor souls destitute of these consolations. What poor shifts are they forced to betake themselves unto! what giants have they to encounter in their own strength! and whether they are conquered or seem to conquer, they have nothing but the misery of their trials!
The second thing considerable, to teach us to put a due valuation on the consolations of the Holy Ghost, is the matter of them, or that wherewith he comforts us. Now, this may be referred to the two heads that I have formerly treated of, — the love of the Father, and the grace of the Son. All the consolations of the Holy Ghost consist in his acquainting us with, and communicating unto us, the love of the Father and the grace of the Son; nor is there any thing in the one or the other but he makes it a matter of consolation to us: so that, indeed, we have our communion with the Father in his love, and the Son in his grace, by the operation of the Holy Ghost.
1. He communicates to us, and acquaints us with, the love of the Father. Having informed his disciples with that ground and foundation of their consolation which by the Comforter they should receive, our blessed Saviour (John xvi. 27) shuts up all in this, “The Father himself loveth you.” This is that which the Comforter is given to acquaint us withal, — even that God is the Father, and that he loves us. In particular, that the Father, the first person in the Trinity, considered so distinctly, loves us. On this account is he said so often to come forth from the Father, because he comes in pursuit of his love, and to acquaint the hearts of believers therewith, that they may be comforted and established. By persuading us of the eternal and unchangeable love of the Father, he fills us with consolation. And, indeed, all the effects of the Holy Ghost before mentioned have their tendency this way. Of this love and its transcendent excellency you heard at large before. Whatever is desirable in it is thus communicated to us by the Holy Ghost. A sense of this is able not only to relieve us, but to make us in every condition to rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorious. It is not with an increase of corn, and wine, and oil, but with the shining of the countenance of God upon us, that he comforts our souls, Ps. iv. 6, 7. “The world hateth me,” may such a soul as hath the Spirit say; “but my Father loves me. Men despise me as a hypocrite; but my Father loves me as a child. I am poor in this world; but I have a rich inheritance in the love of my Father. I am straitened in all things; but there is bread enough in my Father’s house. I mourn in secret under the power of my lusts and sin, where no eyes see me; but the Father sees me, and is full of compassion. With a sense of his kindness, which is better than life, I rejoice in tribulation, glory in affliction, triumph as a conqueror. Though I am killed all the day long, all my sorrows 263have a bottom that may be fathomed, — my trials, bounds that may be compassed; but the breadth, and depth, and height of the love of the Father, who can express?” I might render glorious this way of the Spirit’s comforting us with the love of the Father, by comparing it with all other causes and means of joy and consolation whatever; and so discover their emptiness, its fulness, — their nothingness, its being all; as also by revealing the properties of it before rehearsed.
2. Again: he doth it by communicating to us, and acquainting us with, the grace of Christ, — all the fruits of his purchase, all the desirableness of his person, as we are interested in him. The grace of Christ, as I formerly discoursed of at large, is referred to two heads, — the grace of his person, and of his office and work. By both them doth the Holy Ghost administer consolation to us, John xvi. 14. He glorifies Christ by revealing his excellencies and desirableness to believers, as the “chiefest of ten thousand, — altogether lovely,” and then he shows them of the things of Christ, — his love, grace, all the fruits of his death, suffering, resurrection, and intercession: and with these supports their hearts and souls. And here, whatever is of refreshment in the pardon of sin, deliverance from the curse, and wrath to come, in justification and adoption, with the innumerable privileges attending them in the hope of glory given unto us, comes in on this head of account.
Thirdly. The principle and fountain of all his actings for our consolation comes next under consideration, to the same end; and this leads us a little nearer to the communion intended to be directed in. Now, this is his own great love and infinite condescension. He willingly proceedeth or comes forth from the Father to be our comforter. He knew what we were, and what we could do, and what would be our dealings with him, — he knew we would grieve him, provoke him, quench his motions, defile his dwelling-place; and yet he would come to be our comforter. Want of a due consideration of this great love of the Holy Ghost weakens all the principles of our obedience. Did this dwell and abide upon our hearts, what a dear valuation must we needs put upon all his operations and actings towards us! Nothing, indeed, is valuable but what comes from love and good-will. This is the way the Scripture takes to raise up our hearts to a right and due estimation of our redemption by Jesus Christ. It tells us that he did it freely; that of his own will he hath laid down his life; that he did it out of love.360360 1 John iv. 9, iii. 16; Gal. ii. 20; Rev. i. 5. “In this was manifested the love of God, that he laid down his life for us;” “He loved us, and gave himself for us;” “He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” Hereunto it adds our state and condition, considered as he undertook for us, — sinners, enemies, dead, alienated; then he loved us, and died 264for us, and washed us with his blood. May we not hence, also, have a valuation of the dispensation of the Spirit for our consolation? He proceeds to that end from the Father; he distributes as he will, works as he pleaseth. And what are we, towards whom he carrieth on this work? Froward, perverse, unthankful; grieving, vexing, provoking him. Yet in his love and tenderness doth he continue to do us good. Let us by faith consider this love of the Holy Ghost. It is the head and source of all the communion we have with him in this life. This is, as I said, spoken only to prepare our hearts to the communion proposed; and what a little portion is it of what might be spoken! How might all these considerations be aggravated! what a numberless number might be added! It suffices that, from what is spoken, it appears that the work in hand is amongst the greatest duties and most excellent privileges of the gospel.
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