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and thereby we are diverted and separated from God, and called away from him often, as soon as we begin to approach his presence.
What a pernicious enemy is this flesh to the soul, both in the pleasures and the pains of it! and this world, both in the flatteries and the frowns of it, and even in its necessary cares! When we would give our God the upper-room in our hearts, how is this world ready to get the ascendant! How often does it break in upon our most sacred retirements, and thrust itself, with all its impertinencies, into our holy meditations? How often does it spread a carnal scene all over our thoughts at once, and spoil our devoutest hours? "I cannot dwell so long in my closet as I would, says a christian, the world has such importunate demands upon me." The world follows us, into our places of retirement; the exchange, or the shop, presses into the temple, and robs God even to his face.
Let us then have a care of the flesh let us have a care of this world; we must be watchful over them as our most subtle and dangerous enmies, if we would keep our souls near to God, or often enjoy this divine privilege. Blessed Enoch! who could walk with God in the midst of all the busy and vicious scenes of the old world! and he was translated to heaven, without calling at the gates of death, that he might give a glorious testimony to men how well God was pleased with him. Happy soul! that could keep near to God, and maintain a holy and humble converse with him, when all flesh had corrupted its way and the earth was full of iniquity and violence! Blessed man, who knew not what it was to die, but he knew what it was to be near to God; and his faith and his devotion were changed the shortest way into sight and enjoyment! Happy spirit! who without being absent at all from the body, was brought near to the seat of divine Majesty, and in the fullest manner present with the Lord!
Sins and Sorrows spread before God.
JOB Xxiii. 3, 4.-0 that I knew where I might find him: that I might come even to his seat; I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
THE SECOND PART.
THERE is such a thing as converse with God in prayer, and it is the life and pleasure of a pious soul; without it we are no christians and he that practises it most, is the best follower of Christ for our Lord spent much time in converse with his heavenly Father. This is balm that eases the most raging pains of the mind, when the wounded conscience comes to the mercy-seat, and finds pardon and peace there. This is the cordial that revives and exalts our natures, when the spirit, broken with sorrows, and almost fainting to death, draws near to the Almighty Physician, and is healed and refreshed. The mercy-seat in heaven is our surest and sweetest refuge in every hour of distress and darkness on earth: This is our daily support and relief, while we are passing through a world of temptations and hardships in the way to the promised land. It is good for us to draw near to God: Ps. lxxiii. 28. And yet so much is human nature sunk down and fallen from God, that even his own children are ready to indulge a neglect of converse with him, if their souls are not always upon the watch. But let it be remembered here, that so much as we abate of this divine entertainment among the vanities or amusements of the world, the business or burdens of life; so much we lose of the glory and joy of religion, and deprive our souls of the comfort that God invites us to receive. Job was encompassed with sorrows all around, and his friends had censured him as a vile hppocrite, and a great sinner, because he was so terribly afflicted by the hand of God; whither should he run now but to his heavenly Father, and tell him of all his sufferings.
From the practice of this holy man, I thought we might have sufficient warrant to draw this inference, viz. That when a saint gets near to God in prayer, he tells him all his circumstances, and pleads for help. And that is the doctrine which I am endeavouring now to improve. "O if I could but come uear him, even to his scat, I would order my cause before
him I would spread all my concerns before his eye, and I would plead with him for relief: I would fill my mouth with arguments.
Four things I proposed in the prosecution of this doctrine.-I. To consider what it is for a soul to get near to God in prayer.II. What particular subjects doth a soul, thus brought near to the mercy-seat, converse with God about.-III. Why he chuses to tell all his circumstances and his sorrows to God, when he is thus near him.-IV. How he pleads for relief.
I. We have already considered, what it is for a soul to get near to the seat of God, and what are the usual attendants of such a privilege. At such a season the holy soul will have an awful and adoring sense of the majesty of God, a becoming fear of his terrors, and some sweeter taste of his love. There will be a divine hatred of every sin, and a sensible virtue and influence proceeding from a present God, to resist every temptation; there will be a spiritual and heavenly temper diffusing itself through the whole soul, and all the powers of it; a fixedness of heart without wandering, and a liveliness without tiring: no weariness is felt in the spirit at such a season, even though the flesh may be ready to faint under the overpowering sweetness: then the soul with freedom opens itself before the eye of God, and melts and flows in divine language, whether it complain or rejoice. But I have finished this head, and repeat no more.
H. What are some of the particular circumstances, or subjects of complaint, that a saint brings to God when he comes, near him.
In general, a saint, when he is near to God, has all the fulness of his heart breaking out into holy language; he pours out his whole self before his God and his Father! All the infinite affairs that relate to the flesh and spirit, to this life, and that which is to come all things in heaven, and all things in earth, created or uncreated, may, at one time or other, be the subjects of converse between God and a holy soul. When the question is asked by a carnal man, what can a christian talk with God so long and so often about? The christian in a divine frame, answers, "he hath matter enough for converse with God, to wear out time, and to fill up eternity." It may be as well asked on the other side, what has he not to say? what is there that relates to God, or to himself, to the upper, or the lower world, that he may not at some time say to his God?
But I must confine myself from wandering in so large a field, that I may comport with the design of my text. Though a good man, in devout prayer, often spreads his hopes and his joys before the Lord, as well as his sorrows, fears, and distresses; yet I shall at present endeavour to set forth only the mournful and
complaining representations of his circumstances that he makes before the throne of God.
1. If I could but come near the mercy-seat, I would confess how great my sins are, and I would pray for pardoning grace. I would say, "How vile I am by nature;" I would count my original descent from Adam the great transgressor, and humble myself at the foot of a holy God, because I am the descendant of such a sinner.-I would tell him how much viler I have made myself by practice; "I have been an enemy in my mind by nature, and guilty of many wicked works, whereby I have farther estranged myself from him." I would tell my God how multiplied my transgressions have been before I knew him, and how aggravated they have been since I have been acquainted with him. I would acquaint him with the frequency of my returning guilt, how I have sinned against mercies, against reproofs, against warnings received often from his word, and often from his providence.
I may appeal to the souls of many present, whether they have not had the greatest freedom of confession of their sins, when they have been nearest to God, even though he be a God of holiness. At other times, they have not only been averse to confess to any friend, but even unwilling to talk over to themselves the aggravation of their iniquities, or to mention them in prayer: but when they are brought thus near the throne of God, they unbosom themselves before him, they pour out their sins and their tears together, with a sweet and mournful satisfaction. "I behold," says the saint," the great atonement, the blood of Jesus, and therefore I may venture to confess my great iniquities, for the satisfaction is equal to them all. When I behold God upon his seat, I behold the Lamb in the midst of the throne as it had been slain, and he is my Peace-maker. I see his all-sufficient sacrifice, his atoning-blood, his perfect, his justifying righteousness." The soul then answers the call of God with great readiness, when God says in Is. i. 18. Come let us reason together: though your sins have been as scarlet, they shall be as wool. "I am ready," says the soul," to enter into such reasonings; "I am ready to confess before thee, that my sins are all crimson and scarlet, but there is cleansing blood with thy Son: Blood that has washed the garments of a thousand sinners, and made them white as snow; and it has the same virtue still to wash mine too: I trust in it, and rejoice when I behold that blood sprinkled upon the mercyseat, and therefore I grow confident in hope, and draw yet nearer to God, a reconciled God, since his throne has the memorials of a bleeding sacrifice upon it."
2. If I could get near the seat of God, I would tell him how many my chemies are, and how strong; how malicious, and how
full of rage.And I would beg strength against them, and victory over them.I would say as David: Many there be that hate me, many there be that rise up against me; and many there be that say of my soul, there is no help for him in God; but thou, O God, art my glory, my shield, and the lifter up of head: Ps. iii. 1, 2, 3. Then says the soul, I would complain to God of all my in-dwelling corruption, of the body of death that dwells in me, or in which I dwell; and say, "Owretched man that I am, who shall deliver me!" I would tell him then of the secret working of pride in my heart, though I long to be humble; of the rising of ambition in my soul, though I would willingly maintain a middle state amongst men, and not aim and aspire to be great.I would acquaint him of the vanity of my own mind, though I am perpetually endeavouring to subdue it. I would tell him, with tears, of my sinful passions, of my anger and impatience, and the workings of envy and revenge in me; of the perpetual stirrings of disorderly appetites, whereby I am led away from my God: I would tell him of the hardness of my heart, and the obstinacy of my temper. I would open before his eye, all the vices of my constitution; all those secret seeds of iniquity that are ever budding and blossoming to bring forth fruit to death. These things are fit to mourn before the Lord, when the soul is come near to his seat.
I would complain of this sore enemy, the world, that is perpetually besetting me, that strikes upon all my senses, that by the ears, and the eyes, and all the outward faculties, draws my heart away from God my best friend. I would tell him of the rage of Satan, that watchful and malicious adversary; that I cannot engage in any duty of worship, but he is ready to throw in some foolish or vain suggestion to divert me; and I would look forward, and point to my last enemy death, and beg the presence of my God with me, when I walk through that dark valley :"Lord, when I enter into that conflict, assist me, that I may fear no evil, but be made more than a conqueror through him that has loved me.'
3. I would tell him what darkness I labour under, either in respect of faith or practice. If I am perplexed in my mind, and entangled about any of the doctrines of the gospel, I would then tell my God what my entanglements are, where the difficulty lies; and I would beg, that by his Spirit and his word, he would solve the controversy, and set his own truth before me in his own divine light. And then in point of practice, what darkness lies upon the spirit at such a time, is revealed before God: "My way is hedged up, I know not what path to chuse; it is very hard for me to find out my duty; shew me, O Lord, VOL. I. G