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Chapter LIII.

Consolations For Those Who Labor Under Great Spiritual Temptations.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.Isa. 41:17.

In these words, the Holy Spirit comforts all those that are broken in heart, miserable, tempted, and thirsting after God; by whom they look upon themselves as forsaken and rejected, so that they cry out, “My soul is full of troubles; and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.” Ps. 88:3. For the sake of such as these, I shall touch upon some few heads, by way of comfort and advice under these spiritual temptations.

2. (1) We are to remember, that no kinds of spiritual temptations, melancholy thoughts, terrors of soul, and stings of conscience, can happen to us without the particular permission and gracious will of God our heavenly Father, notwithstanding all the malice and fury of the Evil Spirit. For God has expressly told us in his Word, that the devil has not the least power over any creature; nor can he hurt even a hair of our heads. Matt. 10:30. All creatures are in the hand of God, and not in the power of the devil. Heb. 1: 3. Much less has he any power over man, unless by the permission of God, for a certain season, as in the case of the Gergesenes (Matt. 8:32), and Job. Job 1:12.

3. Now, if he has no power of himself over a hair of our heads, or the least part of our bodies; much less can he of himself afflict, disquiet, or torment our souls. Hence David says, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” Ps. 34:7. And Zechariah, “I, the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about.” Zech. 2:5. So David prays, “Keep me as the apple of the eye.” Ps. 17:8. And he acknowledges God to be the author of all the heavy trials of his spirit: “Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves.” Ps. 88:6, 7. So likewise, “Thou which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth.” Ps. 71:20. Agreeable to which is the song of Hannah, “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” 1 Sam. 2:6. For as the Son of God 356 himself descended first into hell, before he ascended up into heaven; so likewise must the true members of his body experience the same, in the following manner. When a man's conscience is so awakened and enlightened by the Lord, as to feel in himself the strength of sin, the sting of death, the curse of the law, and the fiery darts of the devil; then is his wretched soul so oppressed with grief and horror, that with David (Ps. 77:3), it refuses to be comforted, and looks upon itself as rejected and persecuted by every creature of God. The man who is in this state, does not enjoy the least glimpse of comfort, believing that he deserves it not; he struggles with despair, he contends with hell, and has already a taste of its agony. This is the sting of hell, yea, hell itself, full of terror and amazement, darkness and despair. He that suffers this, is not indeed corporeally, but spiritually, and in his soul, brought down into hell; so that with his blessed Saviour at the mount of Olives, he is in an agony, is very heavy and sorrowful, even unto death. Luke 22:44.

4. But you will say, Is it not strange, that God should suffer his believing children, who have been baptized into Christ, who through him obtained remission of their sins, being justified through faith, and redeemed to eternal life—to be thus miserably tempted and afflicted by the devil, oppressed with dreadful thoughts, and to undergo this spiritual martyrdom? In answer to this, we must consider, that it is not our business to inquire into the secret reasons of God's ways, but to rest satisfied with what he has told us, namely, that all these kinds of affliction proceed from him. Now we may rest assured, that whatsoever comes from him, promotes our spiritual welfare, according to what we are told, that “all things work together for good, to them that love God.” Rom. 8:28. There are, however, some reasons revealed, why God suffers his beloved children to fall into temptations so bitter.

5. The first may be to bring us to a true sense of the strength of sin, which is the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:56); of the curse of the law; of the wrath and justice of God; and of the cruel tyranny of Satan. These hang together, as it were, in a chain, as Hezekiah complains (Isaiah 38:14), when he chattered as a crane or a swallow, and mourned as a dove.

6. Secondly, That we may have worthy conceptions of the value and greatness of our blessed Saviour's passion, and of all the merits of our redemption; and hence learn that by the agony of his own soul, he has delivered us from the punishments of hell. Ps. 22:2.

7. Thirdly, That we may be conformed to the image of Christ. Rom. 8:29.

8. Fourthly, That we may learn to taste the efficacy of God's Holy Word, and the comforts that flow from it. Thus we are told, “by vexation (or temptation) only we shall understand the report” (or word). Isa. 28:19.

9. Fifthly, That we may learn to exercise faith, hope, charity, humility, and patience, that so “the trial of our faith may be found much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire.” 1 Pet. 1:7.

10. Sixthly, That we may afterwards have a more lively perception of the divine comforts, even as St. Paul says, “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” 2 Cor. 1:5.

11. Seventhly, That we may obtain 357 greater degrees of glory in the life to come, according to Rom. 8:17: “If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

12. Though we even did not know that God intended these particular advantages by our sufferings; yet we ought to be satisfied with this one consideration, that our sufferings are ordered by the will of God. For if “the very hairs of our head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30), how much more care, may we suppose, will God take of our souls, that the devil may not precipitate us into despair? Hence we may further learn, not to expect deliverance from any but God himself, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has overcome the world and the devil. John 12:31; 16:11. He, therefore, that labors under temptation, must fly unto Jesus Christ; and from him alone expect that help, comfort, and peace, which nothing in this world can give him.

13. (2) These trials are not to be looked upon as tokens of God's anger, but rather of his infinite mercy, since he is hereby fitting us to be partakers with them who have through many temptations entered into glory. Such was David, who complains, “The sorrows of death compassed me.” Psalm 18:4. And the whole 88th Psalm is full of lamentations of the pains and agony which he underwent in his soul. This, too, was the prophet Jeremiah's case, when he wished that his mother's womb had been his grave (Jer. 20:17); that he had never seen the light, that so he might have avoided his many bitter sufferings. Thus it was with Job, when he cried out: “O that my grief were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together. For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea.” Job 6:2, 3. And “My soul chooseth strangling, and death, rather than my life.” Job 7:15. Thus St. Paul was buffeted by “the messenger of Satan.” 2 Cor. 12:7. Nor, lastly, did the Son of God himself, escape severe trials, when his holy body trembled, and his soul was exceeding sorrowful (Matt. 26:38), and when he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matt. 27:46.

14. From these examples we may learn that we are not the only persons who have been so severely tempted; but that saints and servants of God before us have been visited in the same manner. And as God forsook not them in their extreme agony, so we may assure ourselves that he will in his own time deliver us, as well as them. This is an argument full of consolation. As bodily diseases and persecutions are marks of the divine favor, since by them God endeavors to make us conformable to his Son (and on that account we ought to bear them with patience), so it is a much greater token of the divine favor, and of the glory that shall follow it, when he sends affliction on our souls, as well as on our bodies, and by a variety of crosses brings us to an entire conformity, both in body and soul, to Christ our Head. For as the body of the blessed Jesus, at the time of his passion, was overwhelmed with all kinds of pains, and sufferings, and his soul was full of anguish, distress, and sorrow: so must his spiritual body, in all its true and living members, be made partaker of the same sufferings, whether internal or external, so that the whole spiritual body, as well as the Head, may contribute, each member in its proportion, to fill up the measure of sufferings. This is what St. Paul means, “I fill up that which 358 is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh” (Col. 1:24): so that every living member of Christ must expect to bear his share of Christ's cross, in order to perfect that which is yet lacking in such sufferings. It ought, therefore, to make us rejoice in affliction, when we consider that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Rom. 8:18. We should, when these spiritual storms blow hard upon us, bear with patience the paternal chastisement of God (Micah 7:9), expect his help, not faint in prayer, but think thus with ourselves: This is a season of sufferings; but when wrath has passed away, it will end in joy unspeakable and full of glory. Isa. 54:7, 8.

15. (3) We must support ourselves under this internal conflict, with the comforting promises of Jesus Christ, that in due time we shall conquer if we hold out and faint not. Gal. 6:9. Thus he tells us, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” John 14:30. And, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. For as all the host of Israel triumphed in the person of David, when he slew Goliath, and routed the Philistines (1 Sam. 17:51); so the victory of our Lord is the victory of all true believers. Hence we are told, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” Rev. 12:10, 11. Whenever, therefore, thou findest thyself assaulted by the fiery darts of the Evil One, and thy soul is afflicted with such suggestions as these: “Thou art damned;—thou art undone;—God hath forsaken thee;—thou art mine;—it is in vain for thee to hope, believe, or pray any longer,” then take courage, and answer boldly: “O thou enemy of mankind, thou hast no power to condemn me. God hath not appointed thee to be my judge; but the faithful shall judge the world, and thee, at the last great day” (1 Cor. 6:3), yea, prince of this world, thou art judged already by the Son of God. John 16:11.

16. (4) As the nature of this spirit of blasphemy is such, that a Christian is forced to undergo it sorely against his will, and does all that in him lies to resist and oppose it; hence let him comfort himself, when he is tempted with the thought, that God will never lay it to his charge; since it is not he that acts, but the devil; for the soul is passive, and may, therefore, be assured that such thoughts shall never be imputed for sin. As people in a besieged town, cannot hinder the enemy from throwing fire into the town, though they may do what they can to quench it, and prevent its spreading; and as Hezekiah (Isa. 36:11) could not hinder the blasphemy of Rabshakeh; so we cannot hinder the devil from shooting his envenomed arrows at us. All that we have to do is, to bear it with penitential sorrow, and to take all the care we can, not to suffer our thoughts to vent themselves in blasphemous words; but, on the other hand, having set a guard upon our tongues, we should endeavor so to stifle these murmurings, that they break not out into a flame, as we read of Jeremiah. (Lam. 3:28.) Moreover, forasmuch as thou art assaulted against thy will, it is plain, that thou hast yet a living and struggling faith.

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17. (5) We ought to be comforted, if we find but one single aspiration of our hearts towards God, or any devout affection springing up in our souls by the reading of any text of Holy Scripture. For this is that spark of faith and divine grace, which, like the smoking of flax, God will not quench, but preserve it in its weakest state, when it seems to be almost dead. Isa. 42:3. One devout aspiration such as this, is a certain sign that the Holy Spirit is still present with us, though in a manner almost undiscernible in the deepest ground and centre of the soul. For as the body is not looked upon as dead, whilst there is the least breath or pulse remaining; so we must believe that the Spirit of God, and faith, are not yet entirely gone, if only a feeble prayer and a word of God remain; for then the soul retains a spiritual and internal life, and is not entirely dead. And the soul ought to be content with the smallest spark of this inward light and life, till the Spirit of joy and liberty return to him, and comfort him with all the consolations of God. Let us suppose a man in such a case, that he can neither pray, nor even think a good thought; and that this inability is matter of the greatest grief to him; the anguish of such a soul, because it cannot pray, is in itself a true and effectual prayer. These are the unutterable sighs and groanings which St. Paul mentions. Rom. 8:26. And to this belongs what the prophet says, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” Isa. 41:17.

18. (6) Be the temptations and afflictions of the heart ever so great, yet the Scripture assures us that it is the habitation of God, and not of the devil. That Satan has no possession of it, appears from the furious assaults he makes upon the afflicted soul, by which he endeavors to subdue it; but “greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world.” 1 John 4:4. “Fear thou not, for I am with thee.” Isa. 41:10. Therefore, though this trial of the soul is the greatest affliction that can possibly befall it in this life, yet, forasmuch as we are assured that God will look unto those that are of contrite hearts, and will dwell with them (Isa. 57:15), that he sent the blessed Jesus from heaven to comfort the afflicted, and to preach glad tidings to the distressed (Isa. 61:2); and that He himself invites weary souls to come unto him (Matt. 11:28), therefore let no man despair when he finds himself plunged into this furnace of affliction. These are they whom God commanded his prophet to comfort: “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.” Isa. 35:3, 4. And God tells us that “his strength is made perfect in weakness;” which induced St. Paul to say, “When I am weak, then am I strong.” 2 Cor. 12:10. Yea, the grace of God is so far from forsaking a man, even when he is buffeted (2 Cor. 12:7) by Satan: that it was at that time particularly, that God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” 2 Cor. 12:7-9.

19. (7) There is not so much as one instance to be produced, of any man forsaken of God under this spiritual conflict; but, on the contrary, He has always restored his servants, “whom he has thus chosen in the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10), to the same and to higher degrees of grace, than those whence they thought they had fallen. This ought to be matter of 360 great comfort to us, and persuade us that when the hour of trial is ended, the season of joy and redemption will quickly follow. “Happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty. For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole. He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.” Job 5:17-19; Micah 7:9. Let no man, therefore, faint under tribulation, but bear “the indignation of the Lord” for a little while (Ps. 112:4; 97:11), till the Sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2) arise upon him again with healing and consolation in his wings, for “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart!”

20. (8) Tauler reckons these spiritual afflictions and trials among the singular gifts and favors of God, speaking thus of them: “In these great temptations, God deprives a man of all that he has given him, forcing him to descend into himself and see his own poverty and weakness; and also trying him, to discover how he will behave himself in this desolate state. And this is done when a man is forsaken; so that he knows nothing of God, his grace, his comforts, or the gifts which he once bestowed upon him; but which are now taken away, and concealed from his eyes, so that he knows not whither to fly or which way to turn. When a man is once brought into this state, there is nothing better for him than cheerfully and willingly to submit himself to the order and decree of God. It was, indeed, a great thing in the holy martyrs to lay down their lives for God; but they were so abundantly strengthened by the comforts of his Holy Spirit, that the most exquisite torments were to them but trifling and contemptible, and death itself had lost its terrors. But to have God hide his face, and deprive us of his grace and comfort, is a martyrdom much greater than theirs. This occurs when all the sins, all the infirmities and temptations, which a man has long ago conquered, assault him afresh, with greater violence than when he was the servant of sin. In this case, the best way is to suffer with patience, and to be entirely resigned to the all-wise providence of God.” Such sufferers as these, Tauler calls “spiritual martyrs,” from the bitter trials they undergo whilst deprived of the light of God's countenance, and the comfortable influences of his Spirit, which are so severe that they know not which way to turn for relief; and when they see and consider the gifts and graces bestowed upon others, they fall into bitter dejection of spirit, reckoning that it is their own fault that they are thus barren and destitute of spiritual joy. And though they take ever so much pains, they still seem to labor in vain; for they find their dryness and hardness of heart still increasing upon them; so that at last, being quite void of comfort, and having lost all patience, they fall into a secret distrust of God's mercy, and believe that he is offended with everything they do. At length they submit in patience, until God may make a change; for they themselves are utterly helpless. This is that which brings them to a conformity, not only with the saints, but with Christ, whose whole life was nothing but affliction. These spiritual martyrs, though in the sight of the world they are of all men most miserable, and seem to be forsaken and cast off by God; yet are, in truth, the richest 361 towards God. In their own opinion they are, indeed, at the same time, the most unfaithful to him; though in reality they have the firmest faith, and most ardent zeal for his honor and service, and upon that account undergo these heavy sufferings. From this faith and love towards God (of which they themselves are ignorant), it arises, that they are tormented with divers temptations to which they will not consent, so that even death itself would not be so bitter to them, as the anguish they feel upon that account. They labor with their utmost strength to amend their lives, and practise every Christian virtue; and when they find their labor to be in vain, they relapse into the old sense of their infirmities, attended with the most exquisite pain of mind. All this, they suffer from a principle of love towards God; esteeming themselves the worst of all men, though they are most precious in the sight of God.

21. No wiser counsel can be given to these than that, with humble patience and resignation they bear the troubles which they cannot help, and which are but aggravated by impatience. After this dark night of unspeakable affliction, the Sun of righteousness shall arise, refreshing and filling their hearts with inexpressible light and glory.

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