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573

Rule X.

The tenth rule — Duly improve the least appearances of God in a way of grace or pardon.

If you would come to stability, and a comforting persuasion of an interest in forgiveness by the blood of Christ, improve the least appearances of him unto your souls, and the least intimations of his love in pardon, that are made unto you in the way of God. The spouse takes notice of her Husband, and rejoiceth in him, when he stands behind the wall, when he doth but look forth at the window and show himself at the lattice, — when she could have no clear sight of him, Cant. ii. 9. She lays hold on the least appearance of him to support her heart withal, and to stir up her affections towards him. Men in dangers do not sit still to watt until something presents itself unto them that will give assured deliverance; but they close with that which first presents itself unto them, that is of the same kind and nature with what they look after. And thus God doth in many places express such supportments as give the soul little more than a possibility of attaining the end aimed at: as Zeph. ii 3, “It may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger;” and Joel ii. 14, “Who knoweth but he will return and leave a blessing?” — “It maybe we shall be hid; it may be we shall have a blessing.” And this was the best ground that Jonathan had for the great undertaking against the enemies of God: 1 Sam. xiv. 6, “It may be that the Lord will work for us.” And to what end doth God at any time make these seemingly dubious intimations of grace and mercy? Is it that we should, by the difficulty included in them, be discouraged and kept from him? Not at all; he speaks nothing to deter sinners, especially distressed sinners, from trusting in him. But his end is, that we should close with, and lay hold upon and improve, the least appearances of grace, which this kind of expressions doth give unto us. When men are in a voyage at sea, and meet with a storm or a tempest which abides upon them, and they fear will at last prevail against them, if they make so far a discovery of land as that they can say, “It may be there is land, it may be it is such a place where there is a safe harbour,” none can positively say it is not; there lies no demonstration against it. In this condition, especially if there be no other way of escape, delivery, or safety proposed to them, this is enough to make them to follow on that discovery, and with all diligence to steer their course that way, until they have made a trial of it unto the utmost. The soul of which we speak is afflicted and tossed, and not comforted. There is in the 574intimation of grace and pardon intended a remote discovery made of some relief. This may be Christ; it may be forgiveness. This it is convinced of; it cannot deny but at such or such a time, under such ordinances, or in such duties, it was persuaded that yet there might be mercy and pardon for it. This is enough to carry it to steer its course constantly that way, — to press forward unto that harbour which will give it rest. How little was it that David had to bring his soul unto a composure in his great distress! 2 Sam. xv. 25, 26: “If,” saith he, “I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and shew me the ark, and his habitation: but if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.” He hath nothing but sovereign grace to rest upon, and that he gives himself up unto.

Faith is indeed the soul’s venture for eternity. Something it is to venture on as to its eternal condition. It must either adhere unto itself or its own vain hopes of a righteousness of its own; or it must give over all expectation and lie down in darkness; or it must shut out all dreadful apprehensions of eternity, by the power and activity of its lusts and carnal affections; or it must, whatever its discouragements be, cast itself upon pardon in the blood of Jesus Christ. Now, if all the former ways be detestable and pernicious, if the best of them be a direct opposition unto the gospel, what hath the soul that inquires after these things to do but to adhere unto the last, and to improve every encouragement, even the least, to that purpose?

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