Ralph Erskine Archive

Ralph Erskine

SERMON XL


THE TIME OF NEED, A TIME OF LOVE.
[The third Sermon on this Text.]

“Now, when I passed by the and looked upon thee;
behold, thy time was a time of love.” Ezekiel 16:8

As a throne of grace is erected for a time of need, “Let us come boldly into the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:16); so a time of love is ordered for a time of need and a time of trouble; and, indeed, as none will apply to a throne of grace, but these that are poor and needy, and are really sensible of their poverty, and need, and necessity; so none will duly value and relish a time of love, but these that are brought to distress and trouble, especially under apprehensions of divine anger, wrath, and displeasure; hence our time of misery, and his time of mercy, are here joined together; “Behold, thy time was a time of love.”


We have already improven this subject in several uses: We shall now proceed to another use of the doctrine, and that is of examination. Try, then, if your time of trouble and distress has been a time of love; for I cannot well separate these which the text and context join so closely.
First, We may view this negatively. There are some whose time of trouble is evidently no time of love; as,


1. These whose trouble and distress never make them find more of the vanity of the world discovered too them; nor their hearts ever more separate there from than formerly. If your farms and merchandise, your worldly concerns, (Matt. 22:5), keep your hearts as much away from the gospel-feast, or from Christ, as ever, thou hast got little good of thy trouble. If trouble in a world was blest to thee, the world would become more tasteless to thee; “Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God: Behold, in vain is salvation looked for from the hills and multitude of mountains,” (Jer. 3:22, 23). Intimating, that as the Lord draws to himself, he looses from the world.


2. Such as were never more awakened by their trouble to a serious concern about spiritual and eternal matters, surely they cannot read a time of love in their trouble; they continue asleep, still secure and careless; they are so far from being turned to God, that they are not risen to their feet. See how David in his trouble is awakened to a concern about death and eternity, (Ps. 39). He sees his age as nothing, and every man vanity; then he said, “Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.”


3. Such whose trouble never put them to pray more frequently and fervently than they were accustomed to do, and in another manner; when there is no change in their prayers. It is true, some in trouble may turn from sottishness to seriousness; natural seriousness for help and deliverance; but never from natural to spiritual seriousness, so as to pray in a spiritual manner, for spiritual blessings, and wrestle with God for the blessing: it is said of the hypocrite, that he doth not cry when God enjoins him. See the following: “All this evil is come upon us, yet made not we our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquity, and understand the truth,” (Dan. 9:13). And “All their kings are fallen; yet there is none among them that calleth unto me,” (Hosea 7:7). When God makes our chief enjoyments fail, and yet we turn not to him by faith and prayer, is it a time of love? Nay, rather of wrath and anger. You may pray indeed and yet be guilty of this here challenged, because you pray not better than you did. If the Spirit of prayer was poured out upon us in affliction, it would be a sign of love.
4. Such as under trouble have no more hatred of sin, or heart parting with it, and heart exercise about it, cannot say their time of trouble is a time of love. Love to God grows with hatred of sin; but if you are no more burdened with sin than ever, your time of trouble hath not been a time of love. The troubles of God’s people are to purge away the dross of sin, (Isa. 27:9). But if the bellows are burnt, and the metal consumed, and your iniquities not taken away farther from the heart, it is sad.
5. Such as under their trouble are brought to no more love to God and duty, so as to serve him better and more cordially in these duties, which before they either omitted, or slightly performed; if your service be as faulty as formerly, you come under that charge, “I have so and so smitten thee, but thou hast not returned unto me.”
6. Such as find not Christ more sweet and precious to them, by the means of their affliction; the bitterness of trouble never made Christ sweet to them, the grievousness of their trouble never made Christ precious to them. Is there the same strangeness between Christ and you that ever there was? No fellowship with him as your only help, and he in whom only God is well-pleased and reconciled? Then your time of trouble has not been a time of love. Alas many wear off the sorrow of their affliction, partly by length of time, and partly by mirth and diversion, as Saul called for music to drive away the evil spirit; partly, by supply of comforts, yet remaining, and this lulls them asleep; but they know not what it is, like Hannah, to come to the Lord with a burdened spirit, and get ease from him; “They looked to him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed,” (Ps. 84:5).
Secondly, Let us consider this positively. The time of trouble and distress may be known to be a time of love, 1. More generally, by the gracious effects of a sanctified trouble. 2. More particularly, by considering the particular troubles we have been under, and their particular usefulness, through grace, to us.
1st, More generally. Try it by the gracious effects of a sanctified trouble. I shall mention some of these by which you may try yourselves.
1. If your time of trouble and distress has been a time of love, then your trouble has humbled you.—God’s design, by all the troubles in the wilderness, was to humble them, as well as to prove them, and do them good in the latter end: “Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end;” (Deut. 8:16). “Pride and folly is bound up in the hearts of the children of men, but the rod of correction drives it from them,” (Prov. 22:15). He designs to “hide pride from man, that he may keep his soul from the pit,” (Job 33:17, 18). We would be apt to say proudly with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?” if he did not humble and lay us low. But happy is the man whom affliction humbles to the dust, for the pride of his heart; humbles him to a meekness of spirit, and submission to his sovereign will; humbles him to a sight and acknowledgment of his sin and wickedness, and of unknown corruption, to make him know what was in his heart, (Deut. 8:2), humbles him to a renouncing all confidence in himself, in his own righteousness, strength, and wisdom, (2 Chron. 32:32).
2. If your time of trouble and distress has been a time of love, then your trouble has taught and instructed you: “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, and teachest out of thy law,” (Ps. 94:12). Many a good lesson he teaches his own at that school: “Whom he loves he chastens;” and whom he chastens in love, he teaches. He gives them many sweet discoveries of himself; he shows them their weakness, and his power; their guiltiness, and his righteousness; their emptiness, and his fullness; their baseness, and his highness; their blackness, and his beauty; their folly, and his wisdom; their treachery, and his faithfulness; their sinfulness, and his holiness; their misery, and his mercy; their insufficiency, and his all-sufficiency, &c. What has he taught you by your trouble and affliction? Has he taught you the sinfulness of sin, that not only it brings evil, but is evil, an evil against God? “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backsliding reprove thee: know therefore, and see, that it is an evil and a bitter thing, that thou halt forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts,” (Jer. 2:9).—Has he taught you the emptiness of the creature, and the vanity thereof, that all flesh is grass? (Isa. 40:6). You may have a strong imagination of this in your head, that all flesh is grass, but have you so learned it as to have a deep impression of it on your heart?—Has he taught you the absolute usefulness of Christ, his fullness, worthiness, and suitableness? When the apostle is brought, to an “O wretched man that I am I who shall deliver me?” then follows, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 7:24, 25): here is my up-making; here is my help and deliverance.—Has the God of heaven famished all your gods of earth, and starved you as to creature-comforts, so as to make you hunger and thirst after the fullness, sweetness, and righteousness of Christ? Then your time of trouble has been a time of love.—Has he, by your trouble, taught you to pray, to weary of the earth, and too long for heaven, and to seek him early, and to seek him diligently, to seek him humbly, and to pour out your heart before him?—Has your trouble taught you what is the one thing necessary, and set you in quest of that, with David; “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life?” (Ps. 27:4). Has your trouble taught you the redemption of time? In tranquility, many golden hours are lost; but has your trouble taught you to redeem your time, because the days are evil?—Has your time of trouble taught you to improve your Bible, as well as your time; to search it more diligently, to understand it more clearly, and to relish it more sweetly? “This is my comfort in my affliction, thy word has quickened me.”—Has your trouble taught you to prepare for death and eternity, by drawing out your soul toward an eternal God? You have heard of God before, but do you now see him? Moses never saw God so clearly as when he descended in a cloud; some never see God so clearly as when he descends in a black cloud of affliction; therein we may see his holiness, in hating sin; his justice, in correcting for sin; his faithfulness to his covenant, (Ps.89:30-33); his power in supporting; his mercy in comforting.


3. If your time of trouble and distress has been a time of love, then it has taught you to forsake sin, saying, “What have I any more to do with idols?—This is all the fruit to take away sin.” —Has he taught you to turn to himself, and his way, (by hedging up your way with thorns,) saying, “I will go and return to my first Husband, for then it was better with me than now. It is good for me to draw near to God,” (Hosea 2:6, 7). —Has he taught you to turn to yourself, and to your right senses? Indeed, true conversion brings a man to his wits; it makes a change in the understanding, making him know, believe, and apprehend otherwise than he did: you before thought sin but a sport: but do you now understand it is the greatest of evils? You imagined a glory in a present world; but do you now apprehend the emptiness of it, and where true substantial comfort lies? —Has affliction awakened you out of your dream, so as you apprehend things to be quite otherwise than you took them to be in your sleep? Conversion is a bringing a madman to himself. The prodigal is said to come to himself, (Luke 15:17): true grace makes as great a change upon a man, as the restoring of a man to his wits does, (Mark 5:15). It is like the man called Legion, clothed, and sitting at Christ’s feet, and in his right mind. And, indeed, when a man comes to his right mind, he comes to a right carriage and countenance: we read of some, that the very show of their countenances witnessed against them: you will know some wicked men by their very outward countenance; for, ordinarily, a proud, haughty, and unhumbled air is about them; whereas the grave, heavenly, gentle, and sweet behavior and countenance of God’s people does sometimes speak out the habitation of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and will distinguish them from the hypocrite, that but affects outward gravity. —When a man conies to his right mind, then he comes to a right language, the language of heaven, instead of the language of Ashdod; the earthly mind speaks earthly things natively; but the heavenly-minded man speaks heavenly things as natively; for, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” A new heart gives a man a new tongue; a new heart brings him to new company, and makes him give up with his old, idle, graceless companions, and affect fellowship with them who fear God.—A new heart brings him to a new walk and conversation in heaven. It is true, the external change is less discernable in these who have been civilly and religiously educated; yet there is even as great a difference between that man before and after conversion, though he was never so civil before, as there is between art and nature, or between some old art, he learned at the schools, and a new nature, he has got from God.

4. If your time of trouble has been a time of love, then your trouble brought you to submit to trouble, and cheerfully to welcome it as a God’s send: especially if it shall accomplish God’s gracious design, to welcome it kindly as coming from his hand, especially if he himself come along with it: this is called a receiving it at the hand of God; “Shall we receive good at the hand of God; and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). We kindly receive good at his hand, and every good thing we received, we ought to have acknowledged the hand of God in giving it, and so ought we to receive evil; for example, affliction and trouble is God’s thunder to awaken secure sinners; now, do you welcome it with this view, and for this end? “Lord, let me, by this means, be awakened out of security, and quickened to call upon thee?”—Affliction is God’s forge and furnace to soften hard hearts, and to refine base metal; do you welcome affliction coming on this errand? saying, “Now, Lord, let my hard heart be broken; let me be purged and purified, and come forth as gold.”—Affliction is God’s pruning-knife, for lopping off luxuriant branches; do you welcome affliction, providing it has this errand? saying, “Lord, let me be pruned and purged; if by this means I may bring forth more fruit.” Affliction is God’s school, where he disciplines his children that they may learn obedience by the things they suffer: do you welcome affliction on this errand? saying, “May I receive correction, and be made an obedient child to my heavenly Father, and have evidence of my being not a bastard, but a true child of God. No matter what be the affliction thou orders, if thereby I be a partaker of thy holiness.” Affliction is God’s winnowing wind, or fan, to unchaff his corn, that it may be fit for his gardener: do you welcome it as coming on this errand? saying, “Lord, let my chaff be blown away, even all the chaff of my pride, unbelief, worldliness, and carnality, &c.” Affliction is God’s eye-slave, for clearing the sight of his people that they may see things to be what they are: now, do you welcome affliction if it may accomplish this end? saying, with Job, in his affliction, “That which I know not, teach thou me; show me wherefore thou contendest; tell me what is the quarrel and ground of controversy; and if I have done iniquity, let me do so no more. What I know not of God, O teach thou me What I know not about myself; what I know not about Christ, and the mysteries of the kingdom of grace, or about the mysteries of the kingdom of providence, teach me; make me know thy way that is in the sanctuary, and thy way that is In the sea,” (Job 34:32).


2dly, We now proceed more particularly, to consider the particular times of trouble we have met with in our life-time, and whether or not these have been times of trouble to us. The text leads me to observe our particular times, “Thy time was a, time of love; thy time, who art the favoured and beloved of God.”—What time are theirs? The text allows me to speak of any time that has past over thy head, and enquire if it has been a time of love, of special love, I shall therefore speak a little,
1. Of some particular periods of your time. 2. Of some particular trials and troubles of your time; and enquire if they have been a time of love.

As to the [1.] The particular periods of your time; such as you are, or shall be capable to discern, are the time of youth, the time of middle age, the time of old age, and the time of death; and I would offer you a word of trial concerning each of these. By these we may be led to reflect upon the time of love either past, present, or to come in this world.

(1.) There is the time of youth, that is over with some, and present with others, and would you know if your time of youth has been a time of love? Here let young persons consider what is present, and older persons consider what is past: and both try if their time of youth is, or has been, a time of love. Alas! I fear few have it to say; because the most part spend their youth in childish trifles and vanities, little better than catching butterflies. But if there be any here, whose time of youth has been a time of love, it may be known by these four spiritual marks.


1. Have you been made to remember your Creator in the days of your youth, according to the commandment of God, (Eccl. 12:1)? Have you been brought to a serious remembrance of God your Creator, God your Redeemer; and to remember him so as to love him above all things? For God has a kindly remembrance of young kindness; “Thus saith the Lord, I remember thee, the kindness of thy, youth, and the love of thine espousals,” (Jer. 2:2). To remember him so as to seek him above all things; for God says, “I love them that love me; and they that seek me early, shall find me.”


2. Have you been made to remember the day of judgment in the day of your youth? according to that advertisement, “Rejoice, O young man in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment,” (Eccl. 11:9). Have you been brought to know, that for all the sins of your youth, God will call you to judgment? Have you got the humbling knowledge of it, so as you have born the yoke of humiliation in your youth? “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth,” (Lam. 3:27). Have you got the upstirring knowledge of it, as to make you restless till you was reconciled with the judge, and got your judge to be your friend; God himself to be your God in Christ?


3. Have you been at the school with young Timothy, of whom it is said, (2 Tim. 3:15), that from a child he knew the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus? These whose time of youth has been a time of love, are verily the students of the scriptures, and of the mind of God therein.


4. Have you been affected with the word, as young Josiah was; of whom it is said, (2 Kings 22:19), That his heart was tender, and he humbled himself before the Lord, when he heard the word of threatening read against Jerusalem? “To this man will I look, young or old, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word.” Did the word of threatening touch your heart with fear; and the word of promise touch your heart with love, delight, and desire? And does this work of God upon your heart continue, though not always at the same height and exercise, yet through all the stages of your after-life, and persevere to a progress in the way of the Lord, and acquaintance with him? For some begin with the Spirit and end with the flesh; they seem to begin their days in heaven, and end them in hell; but where it is a sound work of God, it is durable; “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” By these things you may try if your time of youth is, or has been, a time of love.


(2.) There is a time of MIDDLE-AGE, that is present with some of you, and over with others; will you try if that is, or has been, a time of love. Indeed, if your time of youth has been a time of love, then your time of riper years, will be so too; for, “Whom the Lord loves, he loves to the end.” But more particularly,
1. If your time of riper years be, or has been a time of love, then you have got grace to lament the folly of your youth, saying, with the Psalmist; “O remember not against us former iniquities,” (Ps. 79:8). As you have been convinced of the sin of your nature, heart, and way, so you have been particularly challenged for, and made to go heavily under the burden of the sins of your youth. Job was brought to say; “Thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the sins of my youth,” (Job 13:26). Was never the sin of your youth bitter to you before the Lord, and made you cry, with David; “Remember not the sin of my youth?” (Psalm 25:7). If you can look back upon the follies of your youth with pleasure, and are never humbled before God for them, know that a sin never embittered, is a sin never pardoned; sin never hated, is sin never purged: but if thy time of riper years, be a time of love, it will be a time of hating sin, and of hating thyself for all sin, and even the follies of thy youth, which others make a sport of, as being nothing but the trick of youth. “God will not be mocked.”


2. If thy time of riper years be a time of love, it will be a time of ripening for eternity by redeeming the time that is peat in idleness, wickedness, and folly; according to the call of God; “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time,” (Eph. 15:16). If you never began to redeem time, you never yet have had a time of love. O slighter and contemner of time, that knows not what to do with thy time, that idles and trifles it away, and has little or no remorse what time thou mispendest in idle work, idle talk, idle conversation, idle company; thou knowest nothing of a time of love; for time’s redemption begins with it. And now, that thou art come to thy middle-age, it is full time to redeem time, as thou wouldat not be plunged unawares into eternity.


3. If thy time of riper years be, or has been a time of love, then it will be your desire and endeavor to give that strength of time and day to God, and his service, that others give to the devil, and their lusts. The time of middle-age is a time of service amongst men, then they are most fit for temporal service in their day and generation: even so, if we be servants to God at all, that time of life is most fit and proper for glorifying, and honoring, and doing something for his glory, and the good of our own souls, and the souls of others, and accordingly will be thus occupied, if our time in that period be a time of love: for, as his time of love begets love, since “we love him, because he first loved us;” so, according to the measure of our love, such will be the measure of our service with delight from a principle of love. There may be a variety of changes in the measure and man of his loving service; but this will be the habitual business of the man’s life, whose time is a time of love, then it will be a time of service; and, as Jacob’s love for Rachel made his service pleasant, much more will the love of Christ constrain to serve him.


4. If thy time of riper years be a time of love, then it will be a growing time; as you grow in years so will you grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, (2 Pet. 3:18). This will hold true of all the children of grace, notwithstanding of all their winter-decayings, yet they have also their spring-times of reviving and restoration, vastly different from all the changes of frames and moods that may be among hypocrites; for, when the Lord restores his children’s frame, he, together, with it, restores their soul, and leads them in the paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake, (Ps. 23:3). And there they walk and go on in the strength of the Lord, and from strength to strength, pressing towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God. Thus you may by if the time of your middle-age be a time of love.
(3.) There is the time of OLD-AGE that some are brought to. You that are to come to it, will you try if your time of old-age be a time of love? In order to your trial, you may tell me,
1. What is the sorrow of your old-age? Is the sin of your youth, and of your riper age, the sorrow and grief of your age? Is it your sorrow and grief before God, that so much time has been lost, so many opportunities misimproven, and so little good has been got and done by you? May you not say with Jacob to Pharaoh; “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been?” (Gen. 47:9). Do you reckon you have lived no longer than since you began to live unto God? Is it your grief that you have lived so little from him as your principal, and to him as your end, and that you lived so long without him?


2. What is the joy of your old-age? If it be a time of love, then as sin will be the grief, so Christ will be the joy of your old-age, when your joy and comfort in the world is withering and dying. Is your joy in the Lord Jesus beginning to live? “They are the true circumcision, that rejoice in Christ Jesus.” Sorrow for sin, and joy in Christ the Saviour, are very consistent; yea, true sorrow for sin cannot be without joy in the Lord; and true joy in the Lord cannot be without sorrow for sin; and if this be your sorrow and your joy in old-age, it is a time of love.


3. What is the crown of your old-age? Solomon says; “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness,” (Prov. 16:31). Is the righteousness of Christ your crown? Is his righteousness imputed for your justification, your crown for to cover you before God? Is his righteousness of grace imputed for your sanctification, your crown for adorning you, and making you all glorious within, and being the principle of holiness and righteousness of life and conversation before men? Is this the crown of your old-age? And is Christ himself your crown, as the Lord your righteousness and strength?


4. What is the staff of your old-age? Is the word of grace and promise, the staff you lean upon for support and comfort in all your tribulations and difficulties? Do you walk and worship with his staff; as Jacob worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff, in a common sense, (Heb. 11:21); so, do you worship, leaning on the staff of the divine promise? And are you resolved to walk through death with this staff saying, “though I walk through the valley and shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and staff they comfort me?” (Ps. 23:4). Has God put this staff in your hand, and you resolve never to quit with it, but still to lean upon his word, and hope in his word? If so, it is a time of love.


(4.) There is the time of DEATH a-coming; and would you known whether that will be a time of love? Some go to the devil, or his instruments, to know what death they will die; but if you go to God, and his word, you may know indeed what death you will die. I mean, whether you will die in the favor of God, or if your time of death shall be a time of love. Would you know what will come of you at death, and how it will fare with you? Whether you will fall in the lap of God’s everlasting love, or fall into the fire of his everlasting wrath, when death comes, which may be nigh at hand? Why,
1. A time of love in life will certainly end in a time of love at death; for death cannot separate from the love of God, once manifested, (Rom. 8:38). If you be sure then of a time of love now, whether in youth, or riper age, or old age, you may be sure that the time of death will be a time of love also; for, “He rests in his love.”


2. And more particularly, if Christ be your life now; “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God,” (Col. 3:3, 4). If to you to live is Christ, then to die will be gain, (Phil. 1:21). Is Christ the hope of your life, the joy of your life, the strength of your life, the glory of your life, the Alpha and Omega of your life? Have you come to him for life? And do you live on him as your life? And do you reckon your life without him, to be but death? Then your time of death will be a time of love.


3. If Christ be in you by his Spirit, then the time of death will be a time of love; for this is the well of water springing up to everlasting life; “If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” (John 4:14). But if you have the Spirit of Christ, he will abide with you for ever, (John 14:16). This is the earnest of the inheritance, as he is a sanctifying and comforting Spirit, a Spirit of prayer and praise, a Spirit of grace and love, a Spirit of faith and of a sound mind.


4. Your time of death will be a time of love, if the sting of death be taken away by the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Now, is sin taken away in the guilt and rule of it? How shall I know that, say you? Why, do you flee to Christ for pardon of sin, as he is the Lord your righteousness? And do you flee to Christ for victory over sin, as he is the Lord your strength? And do you ever win to rejoice in his pardoning grace, having some peace of conscience in the faith of his atoning blood? And do you ever win to rejoice in his victorious grace, having some begun victory, and some hope of full victory over sin? Why then, according to the measure of this freedom from sin, which is the sting of death, such may be the measure of your assurance, that the time of death, will be a time of love; and you may sing in the view of it with Paul, “O death I where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (1 Cor. 15:55). If you know none of these things in any measure, you then have no ground, as yet, to conclude but that your time of death will be a time of wrath, and a porch to eternal death.


[2.] As to the next thing, viz. the particular troubles and trials of your time, by which you may try the time of love: I cannot now insist upon them; I only mention these two at the time.


1. Perhaps your time, at present, is a time of fear and perplexity about your STATE, not knowing if it be a state of grace; fearing you know nothing of communion with God, or of the power of religion; and you would understand, if it is possible that such a time may be a time of love, and how it may be known? Why,
(1.) Some of the Lord’s people may have communion with God, and experience of the power of godliness, and yet not be assured of it, because they have not that measure of it they would desire to have. It is communion with God, when you have a dealing with God, and God with you; when you ask, and he gives; you knock, and he sometimes opens a door of liberty unto you. There is somewhat of the power of religion, when at times you find your indisposition for duty, and that you can no more pray than remove a mountain; yet, behold quickly the Lord looses your bonds, turns your darkness to light, your hard heart to a soft heart; and you pour it out like water; here is the finger of God; and these things demonstrate a time of love, an interest in God, acquaintance with him, fellowship with him, and the power of his way, though you discern it not.


(2.) Is thy fear in this matter not a lazy, idle fear, but an active, diligent fear, stirring thee up to be about the Lord’s hand, and his way? Some have an idle concern; they are easy though they know not their state; they reckon it only the privilege of some, and attainable by few; and therefore no matter though they have it not. This looks like a total want of the knowledge of God and his way. But does your concern make you diligent? and are you as humble, holy, and circumspect in your darkness, as others are in their light of assurance? There is hope in Israel concerning thee, that thy time is a time of love, notwithstanding thy darkness.


2. Perhaps your time of particular trouble is a time of heaviness with respect to temporal calamities. I shall say no more of this at the time, but to refer you to Psalm 57:1. What is your refuge in a day of calamity? If your time of calamity be a time of love, then such will be your exercise. Two things take place in all God’s children in times of calamity, if faith be any way exercised; and in none else but them.


(1.) They have a refuge, and God only is their refuge; they are obliged to abandon all other refuges; and though they may use means, as well as others, yet they have no other refuge but God, that they run to; “I flee to thee to hide me,” (Ps. 143:9); or, as it is in the Hebrew, I hide me with thee. They have no other refuge but the secret of God’s presence, and the shadow of his wings; they are brought off from all confidence in themselves, and in the creatures.


(2.) They are humbled to be content with a refuge without a delivery; even though the day of calamity be not over, yet they can rejoice in their refuge, till, the day of calamity be overpast. They can rejoice in God as a promiser, even when he is not yet a performer; and rest on a promise, without a performance; in a refuge, without a delivery.—Try if you know anything of this, and if your time of trouble has been a time of love.

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