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THREEFOLD ASSURANCE which hope gives the Christian when God delays to perform his promise 1/7

First Assurance.  Hope assures the soul that though God stays a while before he performs the promise, yet he doth not delay.  ‘The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will sure­ly come, it will not tarry,’ Hab. 2:3.  How is this? ‘Though it tarry it will not tarry!’  How shall we rec­oncile this tarrying and not tarrying?  Very well. Though the promise tarries till the appointed time, yet it will not tarry beyond it.  ‘When the time of the promise drew nigh,’ it is said, ‘which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,’ Acts 7:17.  As the herbs and flowers which sleep all winter in their roots underground without any mention of them, when the time of spring ap­proacheth, presently they start forth of their beds, where they had lain so long unperceived.  Thus will the promise in its season do.  He delays who passeth the time appointed, but he only stays that waits for the appointed time, and then comes.  Every promise is dated, but with a mysterious character; and for want of skill in God’s chronology, we are prone to think God forgets us, when, indeed, we forget our­selves, in being so bold to set God a time of our own, and in being angry that he comes not just then to us. As if a man should set his watch by his own hungry stomach rather than by the sun, and then say it is noon, and chide because his dinner is not ready.  We are over greedy of comfort, and expect the promise should keep time with our hasty desires, which be­cause it doth not we are discontented.  A high piece of folly! The sun will not go the faster for setting our watch forward, nor the promise come the sooner for our antedating it.  It is most true what one saith, ‘Though God seldom comes at our day, because we seldom reckon right, yet he never fails his own day.’ That of the apostle is observable.  He exhorts the Thessalonian church there, ‘that they would not be shaken in mind, or be troubled, as that the day of Christ were at hand,’ II Thes. 2:2, 3.  But what need of this exhortation to saints, that look for their greatest joy to come with the approach of that day? Can their hearts be troubled to hear the day of their redemption draws nigh, the day of refreshing is at hand?  It was not therefore, I conceive, the coming of that day which was so unpleasing and affrighting, but the time in which some seducers would have persuaded them to expect it, as if it had been at the very doors, and presently would have surprised them in their genera­tion, which had been very sad indeed, because then it should have come before many prophecies and prom­ises had received their accomplishment, and by that means the truth of God would have gone off the stage with a slur, which must not, shall not be, as he tells them, ‘For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition,’ II Thes. 2:3.  And as that promise stays but till those intermediate truths, which have a shorter period, be fulfilled, and then comes without any possible stay or stop; so do all the rest but wait till their reckoning be out, and what God hath ap­pointed to intervene be despatched, and they punctu­ally shall have their delivery in their set time.

           

Hope will enable the soul to wait when the promise stays longest

           Third.  Hope will enable the soul to wait when the promise stays longest.  It is the very nature of hope so to do. ‘It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord,’ Lam. 3:26.  Hope groans when the mercy promised comes not, but does not grumble.  Hope’s groans are from the spirit sighed out to God in prayer, Rom. 8:26, and these lighten the soul of its burden of fear and solicitous care; whereas the groans of a hopeless soul are vented in discontented passions against God, and these are like a loud wind to a fire, that makes it rage more.  ‘They shall drink, and be moved, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them,’ Jer. 25:16.  It is spoken of the enemies of God and his people.  God had prepared them a draught which should have strange effects—‘they should be moved;’ as a man, whose brain is disturbed with strong drink, is restless and unquiet: yea, ‘be mad.’  As some, when they are drunk, quarrel with every one they meet, so should their hearts be filled with rage even at God himself, who runs his sword into their sides, because they had no hope to look for any healing of their wounds at his hand.  But now where there is hope, the heart is soon quieted and pacified.  Hope is the handkerchief that God puts into his people’s hands to wipe the tears from their eyes, which their present troubles, and long stay of expected mercies, draw from them.  ‘Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy, and there is hope in thine end,’ Jer. 31:16, 17.  This, with some other comfortable promises which God gave his prophet Jeremiah in a vision, did so overrun and fill his heart with joy, that, he was as much recruited and comforted as a sick or weary man is after a night of sweet sleep: ‘Upon this I awaked,…and my sleep was sweet unto me,’ ver. 26.  When, however, the promise seems to stay long, hope pacifies the Christian with a threefold assurance.  First. Hope assures the soul, that though God stays a while before he performs the promise, yet he doth not delay.  Second. That when he comes he will abun­dantly recompense his longest stay.  Third. That while he stays to perform one promise, he will leave the comfort of another promise, to bear the Christian company in the absence of that.

Our duty is to wait, when God stays his longest before fulfilling his promise

           Second.  When God stays long before he makes payment of the promise, then it is the believer’s duty to wait for it.  ‘Though it tarry, wait for it,’ Hab. 2:3. He is speaking there of the good of the promise, which God intended to perform in the appointed time; and because it might tarry longer than their hasty hearts would, he bids them wait for it.  As one that promiseth to come to a friend’s house sends him word to sit up for him, though he tarry later than or­dinary, for he will come at last assuredly.  This is hard work indeed!  What! wait? When we have stayed so long, and no sight of God’s coming after this prayer, and that sermon!  So many long looks given at the window of his ordinances and providences, and no tidings to be heard of his approach in mercy and comfort to my soul; and after this, still am I bid wait? This is wearisome work.  True, to flesh and blood it is; yea, weak faith is oft out of breath, and prone to sit down, or turn back, when it hath gone long to meet God in the returns of his mercy, and misseth of him; and therefore the apostle ushers in his duty with an affectionate prayer.  ‘The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ,’ II Thes. 3:5.  He had laid down a strong ground of consolation for them in the preceding chapter, in that they were ‘chosen to salvation,’ and ‘called by the gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ II Thes. 2:13, 14, and assured them that God, who is ‘faithful,’ would ‘stablish them, and keep them from evil,’ II Thes. 3:3.  He means [this] so as they should not miscarry, and at last fall short of the glory promised; but, being sensible how difficult a work it was for them amidst their own present weaknesses, the apostasies of others, and the assaults of Satan upon themselves, to hold fast the assurance of their hope unto the end, he turns himself from them to speak to God for them.  ‘The Lord direct your hearts.’  And, as if he had said, it is a way you will never find, a work you will never be able to do of yourselves—thus to wait patiently till Christ come, and bring the full reward of the promise with him; the Lord therefore direct your hearts into it.  And Moses, it seems, before he ascended the mount, had a fear and jealousy of what afterward proved too true, that the Israelites’ unbelieving hearts would not have the patience to wait for his return, when he should stay some while with God there out of their sight; to prevent which, he gave express command before he went up that they should tarry there for him, Ex 14:14. Indeed, a duty more contrary than this of waiting quietly and silently on God, bear our manners, and lackey after us, before we do what he commands: but if the promise comes not galloping full speed to us, we think it will never be at us.

           Question.  But why doth God, when he hath made a promise, make his people wait so long?

           Answer.  I shall answer this question by asking another. Why doth God make any promise at all to his creature?  This may be well asked, considering how free God was from owing any such kindness to his creature; till, by the mere good pleasure of his will, he put himself into bonds, and made himself, by his promise, a debtor to his elect.  And this proves the former question to be saucy and over-bold.  As if some great rich man should make a poor beggar that is a stranger to him his heir, and when he tells him this, he should ask, ‘But why must I stay so long for it?’  Truly, any time is too soon for him to receive a mercy from God that thinks God’s time in sending it too late.  This hasty spirit is as grievous to God as his stay can be to us.  And no wonder God takes it so hei­nously, if we consider the bitter root that bears it.

           First. It proceeds from a selfishness of spirit, whereby we prefer our own content and satisfaction before the glory of God, and this becomes not a gra­cious soul.  Our comfort flows in by the performance of the promise, but the revenue of God’s honour is paid into him by our humble waiting on him in the interval between the promise and the performance, and is the main end why he forbears the paying it in hastily.  Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and God sure may better make us wait, before the promise is given in to our embraces by the full accomplishment of it.  ‘For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the prom­ise,’ Heb. 10:36.  It is very fit the master should dine before the man.  And if he would not like a servant that would think much to stay so long from his meal as is required at his hands for waiting at his master’s table, how much more must God dislike the rudeness of our impatient spirits, that would be set at our meal, and have our turn served in the comfort of the prom­ise, before he hath the honour of our waiting on him!

           Second.  It proceeds from deep ingratitude; and this is a sin odious to God and man.  ‘They soon for­gat his works; they waited not for his counsel,’ Ps. 106:13.  God was not behindhand with his people.  It was not so long since he had given them an experi­ment of his power and truth.  He had but newly lent them his hand, and led them dry‑shod through a sea, with which they seemed to be much confirmed in their faith, and enlarged in their acknowledgments, when they came safe to shore: ‘then believed they his words; they sang his praise,’ Ps. 106:12.  One would have thought that God’s credit now would have gone for a great sum with them ever after.  But it proved nothing so.  They dare not trust God with so much as their bill of fare—what they shall eat and drink; and therefore it is said, ‘they waited not for his counsel, but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness.’  That is, they prevented the wisdom and providence of God, which would have provided well for them, if they could but have stayed to see how God would have spread their table for them.  And why all this haste? ‘They forgat his works.’  They had lost the thankful sense of what was past, and therefore cannot wait for what was to come.

God oft stays long before he fulfills his promise

           First.  God oft stays long before he pays in the good things of the promise.  The promise contains the matter of all our hopes;—called therefore ‘the hope of the promise.’  To hope without a promise is to claim a debt that never was owing.  Now the good things of the promise are not paid down presently; in­deed, then there would be not such use of the prom­ises.  What need of a bond where the money is pres­ently paid down?  God promised Abraham a son, but he stayed many years for him after the bond of the promise was given him.  He promised Canaan to him and his seed, yet hundreds of years interposed be­tween the promise and performance. Esau was spread into a kingdom before the heirs of promise had their inheritance, or one foot of land [was] given them in it.  Yea, all the patriarchs, who were the third genera­tion after Abraham, died, ‘not having received the promises,’ Heb. 11:13.  Simeon had a promise ‘he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ,’ Luke 2:26.  But this was not performed till he had one foot in the grave, and was even taking his leave of the world.

           In a word, those promises which are the portion of all the saints, and may be claimed by one as well as by another, their date is set in the book of God’s de­cree, when to be paid in to a day; some sooner, some later; but not expressed in the promise.  He hath engaged to answer the prayers of his people, and ‘ful­fil the desires of those that fear him,’ Ps. 145:19.  But it proves a long voyage sometimes before the praying saint hath the return of his adventure.  There comes oft a long and sharp winter between the sowing time of prayer and the reaping.  He hears us indeed as soon as we pray, but we oft do not hear him so soon. Prayers are not long on their journey to heaven, but long a‑coming thence in a full answer.  Christ at this day in heaven hath not a full answer to some of those prayers which he put up on earth.  Therefore he is said to ‘expect till his enemies be made a footstool,’ Heb 10:13.  Promises we have for the subduing sin and Satan under our feet, yet we find these enemies still skulking within us; and many a sad scuffle we have with them before they are routed and outed our hearts.  And so with others.  We may find sometime the Christian—as great an heir as he is to joy and comfort—hardly able to show a penny of his heavenly treasure in his purse.  And for want of well pondering this one clause, poor souls are oft led into tempta­tion, even to question their saintship.  ‘Such promises are the saints’ portion,’ saith one; ‘but I cannot find them performed to me, therefore I am none of them. Many a prayer I have sent to heaven, but I hear no news of them.  The saints are conquerors over their lusts; but I am yet often foiled and worsted by mine. There is a heaven of comfort in the promise, but I am as it were in the belly of hell, swallowed up with fears and terrors.’  Such as these are the reasonings of poor souls in the distress of their spirits; whereas all this trouble they put themselves to might be prevented, if they had faith to believe this one principle of un­doubted truth—that God performs not his promises all at once, and that what they want in hand they may see on the way coming to them

 

Hope, as the Christian’s helmet, quiets his spirit when God delays to perform his promise.

           The fourth and last office of hope propounded is, to quiet and compose the Christian’s spirit when God stays long before he come to perform promises. Patience, I told you, is the back on which the Chris­tian’s burdens are carried, and hope the pillow between the back and the burden, to make it sit easy. Now patience hath two shoulders; one to bear the present evil, and another to forbear the future good promised, but not yet paid.  And as hope makes the burden of the present evil of the cross light, so it makes the longest stay of the future good promised short.  Whereas, without this, the creature could have neither the strength to bear the one, nor forbear and wait for the other.  ‘And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord,’ Lam. 3:18; implying thus much, that where there is no hope there is no strength.  The soul’s comfort lies drawing on, and soon gives up the ghost, where all hope fails.  God un­dertook for Israel’s protection and provision in the wilderness, but when their dough was spent, and their store ended, which they brought out of Egypt, they fall foul with God and Moses.  And why? but because their hope was spent as soon as their dough.  Moses ascends the mount, and is but a few days out of their sight, and in all haste they must have a golden calf. And why? but because they gave him for lost, and never hoped to see him more.  This is the reason why God hath so few servants that will stick fast to him, because God puts them to wait for what he means to give, and most are short-spirited, and cannot stay. You know what Naomi said to her daughters, ‘If I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having hus­bands?’ Ruth 1:12, 13.  The promise hath salvation in the womb of it; but will the unbeliever, a soul without heavenly hope, stay till the promise ripens, and this happiness be, as I may so say, grown up?  No, sure, they will rather make some match with the beggarly creature, or any base lust that will pay them in some pleasure at present, than wait so long, though it be for heaven itself.  Thus as Tamar played the strumpet be­cause the husband promised was not given her so soon as she desired, Gen. 38, so it is the undoing of many souls because the comfort, joy, and bliss of the promise is withheld at present, and his people are made to wait for their reward; therefore they throw themselves into the embraces of this adulterous world that is present.  ‘Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world,’ II Tim. 4:10.  The soul only that hath this divine hope will be found patiently to stay for the good of the promise. Now, in handling this last office of hope, I shall do these three things—

First. I shall show you that God oft stays long before he pays in the good things of the promise.

Second. That when God stays longest before he performs his promises, it is our duty to wait.

Third. That hope will enable the soul to wait when he stays longest.

 

Whence and how hope hath its supporting influence in affliction 3/3

Third Answer.  As hope assures the soul of the certainty and transcendency of heaven’s salvation, so also of the necessary subserviency that his afflictions have towards his obtaining this salvation.  ‘Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?’ Luke 24:26.  As if Christ had said, ‘What reason have you so to mourn, and take on for your Master’s death, as if all your hopes were now split and split?  Ought he not to suffer?  Was there any other way he could get home, and take possession of his glory that waited for him in heaven?  And if you do not grudge him his preferment, never be so inordi­nately troubled to see him onwards to it, though through the deep and miry land of suffering.’  And truly the saint’s way to salvation lies in the same road that Christ went in: ‘If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together,’ Rom. 8:17; only with this advantage, that his going before hath beaten it plain, so that now it may be forded, which but for him had been utterly impassable to us.  Afflictions understood with this notion upon them—that they are as necessary for our waftage to glory as water is to carry the ship to her port, which may as soon sail without water, as a saint land in heaven without the subserviency of afflictions—this notion, I say, well understood, would reconcile the greatest afflictions to our thoughts, and make us delight to walk in their company.  This knowledge Parisiensis calls unus de septem radiis divini scientiæ—one of the seven beams of divine knowledge; for the want of which we call good evil, and evil good—think God blesseth us when we are in the sunshine of prosperity, and curs­eth when our condition is overcast with a few clouds of adversity.  But hope hath an eye that can see heav­en in a cloudy day, and an anchor that can find firm land under a weight of waters to hold by; it can expect good out of evil.  The Jews open their windows when it thunders and lightens, expecting, they say, their Messiah to come at such a time to them.  I am sure hope opens her window widest in a day of storm and tempest: ‘I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord,’ Zeph. 3:12, and, Micah 7:7, ‘There­fore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.’  See what strong hold hope’s anchor takes.  And it is a remark­able ‘therefore,’ if you observe the place.  Because all things were at so desperate a pass in the church’s affairs—as there you will find them to be in man’s thinking—‘therefore,’ saith the saint, ‘I will look, I will wait.’  Indeed, God doth not take the axe into his hand to make chips.  His people, when he is hewing them, and the axe goes deepest, they may expect some beautiful piece at the end of the work.

           It is a sweet meditation Parisiensis hath upon ‘We know that all things work together for good to them that love God,’ Rom. 8:28.  Ubi magis intrepida magis pensata esse debes, quàm inter cooperarios meos, et coadjutores meos?—Where, O my soul, shouldst thou be more satisfied, free of care and fear, then when thou art among thy fellow‑labourers, and those that come to help thee to attain thy so‑much desired salvation, which thy afflictions do?  They work together with ordinances and other providential dealings of God for good; yea, thy chief good, and thou couldst ill spare their help as any other means which God appoints thee.  Should one find, as soon as he riseth in the morning, some on his house‑top tearing off the tiles, and with axes and hammers taking down the roof thereof, he might at first be amazed and troubled at the sight, yea, think they are a company of thieves and enemies come to do him some mischief; but when he understands they are workmen sent by his father to mend his house, and make it better than it is—which cannot be done without taking some of it down he is satisfied and content to endure the present noise and trouble, yea thankful to his father for the care and cost he bestows on him.  The very hope of what advantage will come of their work makes him very willing to dwell a while amidst the ruins and rubbish of his old house.  I do not wonder to see hopeless souls so impatient in their sufferings—sometimes even to distraction of mind. Alas! they fear presently—and have reason so to do —that they come to pull all their worldly joys and comforts down about their ears; which gone, what, alas! have they left to comfort them, who can look for nothing but hell in another world?  But the believer’s heart is eased of all this, because assured from the promise that they are sent on a better errand to him from his heavenly Father, who intends him no hurt, but rather good—even to build the ruinous frame of a his soul into a glorious temple at last; and these af­flictions come, among other means, to have a hand in the work; and this satisfies him, that can say, ‘Lord, cut and hew me how thou wilt, that at last I may be polished and framed according to the platform [pat­tern] which love hath drawn in thy heart for me.’ Though some ignorant man would think his clothes spoiled when besmeared with fuller’s earth or soap, yet one that knows the cleansing nature of them will not be afraid to have them so used

 

 

Whence and how hope hath its supporting influence in affliction 2/3

  You know what God said to Moses when he was sick of his employment, and made so many mannerly or rather unmannerly excuses from his own inability —and all that he might have leave to lay down his commission: ‘Go,’ saith God, ‘and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say,’ Ex. 4:12. And again, ‘Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother?  I know that he can speak well.  And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee,’ ver. 14.  Thus God did ani­mate him, and toll [draw] him on to like that hard province he was called to.  Methinks I hear hope, as God’s messenger, speaking after the same sort to the drooping soul oppressed with the thoughts of some great affliction, and ready to conclude he shall be able to stem so rough a tide—bear up cheerfully and lift up his head above such surging waves.  ‘Go, O my soul,’ saith hope, ‘for thy God will be with thee, and thou shalt suffer at his charge.  Is not Christ thy brother? yea, is he not thy husband?  He, thou thinkest, can tell how to suffer, who was brought up to the trade from the cradle to the cross.  Behold, even he comes forth to meet thee, glad to see thy face, and willing to impart some of his suffering skill unto thee.’  That man indeed must needs carry a heavy heart to prison with him, who knows neither how he can be maintained there nor delivered thence.  But hope easeth the heart of both these, which taken away, suffering is a harmless thing and not to be dreaded.

           Second Answer.  Hope assures the Christian not only of the certainty of salvation coming, but also of the transcendency of this salvation to be such, as the sorrow of his present sufferings bears no proportion to the joy of that.  This kept the primitive Christians from swooning while their enemies let out their blood.  They had the scent of this hope to exhilarate their spirits: ‘For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day,’ II Cor. 4:16.  Is not this strange, that their spirit and courage should increase with the losing of their blood?  What rare unheard‑of cordial was this?  ‘For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,’ ver. 17.  Behold here the dif­ference betwixt hopes of heaven and hopes of the world. These latter, they are fanciful and slighty, seem great in hope but prove nothing in hand; like Eve’s apple, fair to look on as they hang on the tree, but sour in the juice, and of bad nourishment in the eating.  They are, as one calls them wittily, ‘nothing between two dishes.’  It were well if men could in their worldly hopes come but to the unjust steward’s reckoning, and for a hundred felicities they promise themselves from the enjoyments they pursue, find but fifty at last paid them.  No, alas! they must not look to come to so good a market, or have such fair deal­ings, that have to do with the creature, which will certainly put them to greater disappointments than so.  They may bless themselves if they please for a while in their hopes, as the husbandman sometimes doth in the goodly show he hath of corn standing upon his ground; but by that time they have reaped their crop and thrashed out their hopes, they will find little besides straw and chaff—emptiness and vanity —to be left them.  A poor return, God knows, to pay them for the expense of their time and strength which they have laid out upon them!  Much less suitable to recompense the loss he is put to in his conscience; for there are few who are greedy hunters after the world’s enjoyments, that do drive this worldly trade without running in debt to their consciences.  And I am sure he buys gold too dear, that pays the peace of his conscience for the purchase.  But heaven is had cheap, though it be with the loss of all our carnal interests, even life itself.  Who will grudge with a sorry lease of a low-rented farm, in which he also hath but a few days left before it expires (and such our temporal life is), for the perpetuity of such an inherit­ance as is to be had with the saints in light? This hath ever made the faithful servants of God carry their lives in their hands, willing to lay them down, ‘while they look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal,’ II Cor. 4:18.