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at such a time.
There is a zeal for God enters into the soul at such a season, and the soul is more desirous to lay out itself for the glory of God Moses had drawn near to God in the mount, and had been with him forty days; when he came down from the mount, he beheld the people filled with idolatry, and he brake the tables of stone in an impatience of zeal; his zeal for God was so great, he hardly knew what he did, his zeal for God was kindled high, because he had been so near to God, and just conversing with him. So, Isaiah vi. 8. when that great saint had been near to God, and had seen him in the glories of his holiness, and had some courage and confidence in his love, "Now I will go, says he, upon any difficult message; Here am I, send me, though it be to fulfil the hardest service." There will be generally all these attendants of great nearness to God, viz. power against temptation, strength against sin, zeal for the glory of God in the world, and ability to perform difficult duties.
V. There will be a spiritual frame introduced into the heart and a distance from all carnal things. "Stand by, saith the soul to all this world, whilst I go to seek my God; but when I have found him, then the world of itself, as to all the temporal concerns of it, vanishes and goes out of sight. When I get so near to heaven, this earth is so small a point, that it cannot be seen, and those comforts among the creatures, that were fair as the moon, or bright as the larger stars, are vanished and lost, and disappear under the brighter light of this Sun." Created beauties, with all their little glimmerings, tempt the soul toward them, when God is absent; as a twinkling candle entices the silly fly at midnight to hover about the rays of it; but the candle faints under the broad beams of rising day-light; it has no power to attract those little buzzing animals in the morning, and it is quite invisible at noon. So the very approach of God makes creatures appear more contemptible and worthless in the esteem of a devout christian; a God near at hand will drive the creatures afar off; and a present God will command the world to utter absence. None of the tempting vanities of life come in sight, and sometimes not the most important concerns of it remain before the eye of the saint, when God appears and fills the view and prospect of his spirit. The soul is taken up with spiritual things, therefore carnal ones vanish; it is entertained and filled with the majesty of God, the riches of grace, redeeming grace; with the glory of Christ Jesus, the beauty of his person, the honour of his characters, his various excellencies, and the super-eminence of his offices, both in the constitution and discharge of them; the soul is then warmed with a zealous concern for the church of Christ, and big with the designs of the honour of God, while it forgets the world.
Or at such a season as this, when we get near to God in prayer, if we think of any of the creatures, it is all in order to the honour of God. If I think of a brother, or father, or child, "O may they all be instruments in thine hand, for thy honour here among men, and for ever among blessed angels !" The soul does not ask for riches and glories on earth for them but, "May they live in thy sight, O Lord!" If it thinks of the comforts of life, or the blessings of prosperity, "O let holiness to the Lord be written upon them all; for I would not have one of them, but what may subserve thine honour in the world." If the soul thinks of its pains, and sorrows, and reproaches, it longs for the sanctification of them at present, and the removal of them in due season, that it may serve its God the better. Thus the soul is, as it were, taken out of self, when it gets near to God.
"Let me have the conveniences of life, (says the christian,) not so much for my ease, as that I may better advance thine honour." The soul grows weaned from self at such a time; it breaks out of the narrow circle of self, when it gets nigh to God. If it thinks of the ministry or of ordinances, "Lord, let that ministry be for the advancement of thy name! Lord, let these ordinances be for the increase of thy glory in the world, for the advancement of grace in my heart, and bring me nearer to heaven! If it thinks of the kingdom, or the parliament, powers or princes in this world, it is with this design, that God may be glorified in the courts of princes, and in parliaments, and honoured in armies and nations known and unknown." Thus the soul always keeps within sight of God: it still keeps all its designs within the circle of God, and aims still at the glories of its Heavenly Father. If it thinks of life or of death, "I would not ask life, says the saint, but to glorify thee; nor death, but to glorify thee better, and to enjoy more of thee." Thus when the soul is near to God, it is in a divine light that it sees all things,. it is still with a design for God; and when it indulges the thoughts toward any creature, it is without turning aside a moment from its God. Thus carnal things are taken into the mind, and spritualized by the presence of God, the infinite Spirit, when the soul approaches so near to his seat.
VI. There will then be a fixedness of heart in duty without wandering, and liveliness without tiring. At other times of common and usual worship, when the saint is in too formal and in too cold a frame, the heart roves perpetually, and is soon weary; but when we get near to God, then we have a little emblem of heaven within us, where they worship God day and night without interruption, and without weariness. When we wait upon God at this rate, we are still mounting up higher and
higher, as with eagles' wings; we walk first without fainting, and then run without wearying, at last, we fly as an eagle, and make haste to the fuller possession of our God; Is. xl. 31. The soul is then detained in the presence of God with overpowering delight, and it cannot be taken away from the object of its dearest satisfaction. This is a joy above all other joys, above all the joys of sense, above all the joys of the intellectual world that are not divine and holy. There are some pleasures that arise from philosophical and intellectual notions, that are superior to the pleasures of sense; but the pleasure of being near to God in devotion, far transcends all these. Animal nature, at such a season, may be worn out, and faint and die under it; but the mind is not weary. It is possible for divine transports to rise so high as to break this feeble frame of flesh, and dissolve it; and there have been instances of persons that have been near to a dissolution of mortality under the power of divine ecstacies: but the soul has not been faint, has felt no weariness.
There are at such a season most pleasurable thoughts of heaven; there are some bright glimpses of that blessed state when a christian attains this nearness to God; for heaven is a state of nearness to God everlasting and uninterrupted: nor are the blessed inhabitants of that world ever weary of their company or their business; and thus, when there is any thing akin to heaven brought down to the saints in this mortal state, they know it cannot be uninterrupted and perpetual; and therefore there is a desire of frequent returns of such seasons as these are, while they are here on earth. And as Christ, the bridegroom, speaks to his saints in the language of Solomon, Let me see thy face often, my spouse, my beloved, let me hear thy voice; Song ii. 44. and viii. 13. So the saint says to his God at such a season, "O may I often see thy face in this manner, may I often hear such a voice as this is from thee, for I know not how to live without it. Flee, my beloved Saviour, and make haste to a speedy return, and let there be an uninterrupted and everlasting converse between God and my soul."
Lastly, There is at such a season oftentimes a pouring out of the soul before God with some freedom in the gift, as well as the grace of prayer. Mere sighs and groans are for persons at a distance; but when we get near to God, we speak to him even in his ear; and the heart is full, and the tongue overflows. I grant there may be the spirit of prayer assisting a poor soul that cannot get near to God, but still cries after him when he is hidden, and expresses itself only in sighs and in groans unutterable; so the apostle tells us; Rom. viii. 26. The spirit itself maketh intercession in us with groanings that cannot be uttered. And thus it may be, while God hides himself, while there is a veil conceal
ing God from our eyes, while there is any special temptation like a mountain that separates between God and our souls, he may send his Spirit to work us up to earnest desires and longings after him.
But when this SPIRIT OF PRAYER has brought the soul near, when God has been pleased to turn aside the veil, to remove the mountain, and to discover himself in all his glory, beauty, and love, then there will be generally the gift of prayer also in exercise by the assistance of the promised Spirit; and such persons many times are able to address themselves to God with much freedom, and to pour out the soul before God in proper words, notwithstanding at other times they appear to have but weak capacities. When they have such affecting sights of their own sin and guilt, and such surprizing views of the mercy of God manifested to them in particular, and at the same time when they look upon all things round them with a design for the glory of God; they are both naturally and divinely taught to pour out their souls before God, and represent their cares and circumstances to him in affecting language.
I will not say indeed, it is always so when any soul gets near to God; there must be some allowance made for the different tempers and constitutions, as I shall shew immediately. There have also been some instances of holy men, whose voice has, at such a time, been overpowered with divine pleasure, all their powers have been transported and overwhelmed with rapturous silence; but for the most part holy souls have found an uncommon liberty of language at the throne of grace at such seasons. And this is one reason, I am persuaded, why the gift of prayer is not so common a thing as might be wished, because there is so little nearness to God among the professors of our day. The gift of prayer abounds not among christians in our churches; O that I could say it was found more gloriously among ministers, while in your name we speak to the great God! But if there were a constant laborious diligence in the soul to get nearer to God, in all our secret as well as public addresses to him, we should find more abundance of the gift of prayer poured down upon us by the Spirit, as well as brighter evidences of every praying grace.
I must conclude this discourse before I proceed to the other heads which were proposed; but I would not willingly leave it without a caution or two, and one reflection. The first caution is this: Let not the humble mourning christian, who walks carefully with God, under much darkness and fear, charge himself with utter distance and estrangement from the throne of grace, because he does not feel all these sacred passions and powers of nature in lively exercise, while he bows his knees before the Lord: for I
have described this blessed privilege in the sublime glory and beauty of it, so as it has been often attained and enjoyed by persons eminent in grace and religion, and especially such as have had lively affections, and the powers of animal nature in a good degree sanctified, and subservient to the devotions of the soul. But where the natural spirits are low and sinking, and where temptations and darkness hang heavy upon the mind, the christian may truly draw near to God, so far as to find a gracious acceptance with him, and may fetch secret divine communications from the mercy-seat to maintain his spiritual life; though he feels but little of these sensations of heavenly pleasure, these more vigorous efforts of devotions and joy. Yet let him neither deny nor despise those more elevated enjoyments of soul, those near and blessed approaches to the seat of God, with which others have been favoured.
The second caution shall be addressed to those, who feel much of rapture and transport in their hours of secret piety. I entreat that they would not imagine themselves so often to enjoy this unspeakable privilege of holy nearness to God in worship, if they do not sensibly find such an increase of holiness, as may prove effectually that they have been with God. If they have been conversing with their Maker, like Moses in the mount, there will be a shine of holiness upon the face of their souls. To pretend therefore to have enjoyed much of God in the closet, and to come down amongst men peevish and fretful, or immediately to betray a carnal and covetous, or a haughty and untractable spirit; these are things of so inconsistent a nature, that the succeeding iniquity spoils the devotion, and almost destroys the pretence to any sublime degrees of it. Such persons had need look well to themselves and make a narrow search within, whether their hearts be sincere with God or no, lest they build all their hopes upon the flashy efforts of animal nature, coupled with the thoughts of some sacred objects, and tacked on to a divine meditation.
Reflection. What a wretched hindrance is this world to our christian profit and pleasure! How often does it keep the soul at a sad distance from God! With what difficulty and uneasy reluctance, are we sometimes drawn, or rather dragged into retirement, that the soul may seek after God there? How many excuses doth the flesh borrow from the cares and necessities of this life, to delay, or to divert the duty of prayer? Our memory, our imagination, and our senses, are faithful purveyors and treasurers for the world; they are representing to us the things of this present state, the trifles or the businesses, the cares or amusements of it, the labours or delights which relate to this life;