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Rule VIII.

The eighth rule — Spend not time in heartless complaints,

Take heed of spending time in complaints when vigorous actings of grace are your duty.

Fruitless and heartless complaints, bemoanings of themselves and their condition, is the substance of the profession that some make. If they can object against themselves, and form complaints out of their conditions, they suppose they have done their duty. I have known some who have spent a good part of their time in going up and down from one to another with their objections and complaints. These things are contrary to the life of faith. It is good, indeed, in our spiritual distresses, to apply ourselves unto them who are furnished with the tongue of the learned, to know how to speak a word in season unto him that is weary; but for persons to fill their minds and imaginations with their own objections and complaints, not endeavouring to mix the words that are spoken for their relief and direction with faith, but going on still in their own way, this is of no use or advantage. And yet some, I fear, may please themselves in such course, as if it had somewhat of eminency in religion in it.

Others, it may be, drive the same trade in their thoughts, although they make not outwardly such complaints. They are conversant, for the most part, with heartless despondings. And in some they are multiplied by their natural constitutions or distempers. Examples of this kind occur unto us every day. Now, what is the advantage 567of these things? What did Zion get when she cried, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me?” or Jacob, when he said, “My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?” Doubtless they did prejudice themselves. How doth David rouse up himself when he found his mind inclinable unto such a frame? for having said, “Why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” he quickly rebukes and recollects himself, saying, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God,” Ps. xliii. 2, 5.

We must say, then, unto such heartless complainers, as God did to Joshua, “Get you up; why lie you thus upon your faces?” Do you think to mend your condition by wishing it better, or complaining it is so bad? Are your complaints of want of an interest in forgiveness a sanctified means to obtain it? Not at all; you will not deal so with yourselves in things natural or civil. In such things you will take an industrious course for a remedy or for relief. In things of the smallest importance in this world and unto this life, you will not content yourselves with wishing and complaining; as though industry in the use of natural means, for the attaining of natural ends, were the ordinance of God, and diligence in the use of spiritual means, for the obtaining of spiritual ends, were not.

Do not consult your own hearts only. What is it that the Scripture calls for in your condition? Is it not industry and activity of spirit? And what doth the nature of the thing require? Distress that is yet hoped to be conquered evidently calls for industry and diligence in the use of means for deliverance. If you are past hope, it avails not to complain; if you are not, why do you give up yourselves to despondencies? Our Saviour tells us that “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force,” Matt. xi. 12. It is not of the outward violence of its enemies seeking to destroy it that our Saviour speaks, but of that spiritual fervency and ardency of mind that is in those who intend to be partakers of it; for βιάζεται, “is taken by force,” Luke xvi. 16, is no more but. εὐαγγελίζεται, “is preached;” — “The kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” Pressing into it, and taking it by force, are the same thing. There is, then, a violence, a restless activity and vigour of spirit, to be used and exercised for an interest in this kingdom. Apply this to your condition. Are you in depths and doubts, staggering and uncertain, not knowing what is your condition, nor whether you have any interest in the forgiveness that is with God Are you tossed up and down between hopes and fears? [Do you] want peace, consolation, and establishment? Why lie you upon your faces? Get up, watch, pray, fast, meditate, offer violence to your 568lusts and corruptions; fear not, startle not at their crying or importunities to be spared; press unto the throne of grace by prayers, supplications, importunities, restless requests. This is the way to take the kingdom of heaven. These things are not peace, they are not assurance; but they are part of the means that God hath appointed for the attainment of them.

What, then, is the peculiar instruction that is proper for souls in this condition? That, plainly, of the apostle, 2 Pet. i. 10, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” “Alas!” saith the soul, “I am at no certainty, but rather am afflicted and tossed, and not comforted. My heart will come to no stability. I have no assurance, know not whether I am chosen or called; yea, fear that my latter end will be darkness and sorrow. There is, I confess, forgiveness with God, but [I] justly fear I shall never be made partaker of it.” What is the usual course that is taken in such complaints by them to whom they are made? Mostly, they have a good opinion of them that come with these complaints; they judge them to be godly and holy, though much in the dark. If they knew them not before, yet upon these complaints they begin to be well persuaded of them. Hereupon, they are moved with pity and compassion, and troubled to see them in their perplexities, and set themselves to tender relief unto them: they mind them of the gracious promises of the gospel; it may be, fix upon some one or more of them in particular, which they explain to them; thence they mind them of the abundant grace and tender love of the Father, of the merciful care of our High Priest, his readiness and ability to save, his communications of such favours unto them as they perceive not. By such ways and means, by such applications, do they seek to relieve them in the state and condition wherein they are. But what is the issue? Doth not this relief prove, for the most part, like the morning cloud, and as the early dew? A little refreshment it may be it yields for a season, but is quickly again dried up, and the soul left in its heartless, withering condition.

You will say, then, “Do you condemn this manner of proceeding with the souls of men in their doubts, fears, and distresses? or would you have them pine away under the sense of their condition, or abide in this uncertainty all their days?” I answer, No; I condemn not the way; I would not have any left comfortless in their depths. But yet I would give these two cautions —

1. That spiritual wisdom and prudence is greatly required in this matter, in the administration of consolation to distressed souls. If in any thing, the tongue of the spiritually learned is required herein, — namely, in speaking a word in season to them that are weary. A promiscuous drawing out of gospel consolations, without a previous 569right judgment concerning the true state and condition of the souls applied unto, is seldom useful, ofttimes pernicious. And let men take care how they commit their souls and consciences unto such who have good words in readiness for all comers.

2. If counsel and consolation of this kind be given, special and distinct from the advice we are upon of watchfulness, diligence, spiritual violence in a way of duty, it is exceeding dangerous, and will assuredly prove useless; for let us see what counsel the Holy Ghost gives in this condition unto them who would make their “calling and election sure,” who would be freed from their present fears and uncertainties, who complain of their darkness and dangers. Why, saith he, “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue,” and so on, 2 Pet. i. 5–7;’ ” for,” saith he, “if ye do these things ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” verse 11. You who are now in the skirts of it, who know not whether you belong to it or no, you shall have an entrance into the kingdom of Christ, and all the joy, comforts, consolations, and glory of it shall be richly administered unto you. This is the advice that the Holy Ghost gives in this case; and this is the blessed promise annexed unto the following of this advice; and this the former compassionate course of administering consolation is not to be separated from.

But you will, it may be, here say, “We are so dead and dull, so chained under the power of corruptions and temptations, that we are not able thus to put forth the fruit of a spiritual life in adding one grace unto another.” But do you use diligence, study, endeavours, all diligence, diligence at all times, in all ways by God appointed, all manner of diligence within and without, in private and public, to this end and purpose? Do you study, meditate, pray, watch, fast, neglect no opportunity, keep your hearts, search, try, examine yourselves, flee temptations and occasions of cooling, deadening, and stifling grace? Do these things abound in you? Alas! you cannot do thus, you are so weak, so indisposed. But, alas! you will not, you will not part with your ease, you will not crucify your lusts, you will not use all diligence; but must come to it, or be contented to spend all your days in darkness, and to lie down in sorrow.

Thus do men frequently miscarry. Is it any news, for persons to bewail the folly of their nature and ways in the morning and evening, and yet scarce stand upon their watch any part of the day, or in any occasion of the day? Is this “giving all diligence?” Is this “working out our salvation with fear and trembling?” And may we not see professors even indulging themselves in ways of vanity, folly, wrath, envy, sloth, and the like, and yet complain at what a loss they are, how unquiet, how uncertain? God forbid it should be 570otherwise with you, or that we should endeavour to speak peace unto you in any such a frame. To hear of a person that he walks slothfully, carelessly, or indulgeth his corruptions, and to find him complaining that he is at a loss whether he have any interest in pardon or no; to give or tender comfort to such mourners, without a due admonition of their duty to use diligence in the use of means, for to help on their delivery out of the condition wherein they are, is to tender poison unto them.

To this, then, the soul must come that is in depths, if it intend to be delivered. Heartless complaints, with excuses to keep it from vigorous, spiritual diligence, must be laid aside; if not, ordinarily, peace, rest, and stability will not be obtained. A great example hereof we have in the spouse, Cant. v. 2–8. She is drowsy and indisposed unto communion with Christ, whereunto she is invited, verse 2; this puts her upon making excuses, from the unfitness of the time, and her present indisposition and unpreparedness as to the duty whereunto she was called, verse 3. Hereupon Christ withdraws his presence from her, and leaves her at a loss as to her former comforts, verse 6. What course doth she now take? Doth she now lie down again in her former slumber? doth she make use of her former excuses and pretences why she should not engage into the duties she was called unto? No such thing; but now, with all earnestness, diligence, sedulity, and importunity, she engageth in all manner of duties, whereby she may recover her former comforts, as you may see in the text. And this must be the course of others who would obtain the same success. Spiritual peace and sloth will never dwell together in the same soul and conscience.

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