Ralph Erskine Archive

Ralph Erskine

SERMON XLI


THE TIME OF NEED, A TIME OF LOVE.
[The fourth 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

Between the time of life and the time of death, our concern should be that a time of love intervene. Solomon speaks of a time to be born, and a time to die, intimating, that there is no time to live, that we can promise upon; and therefore, between our birth and our death, our main care should be to have a time of love: for, if death prevent us before we know that, woe will be to us that ever we were born. As fire kindles fire, and one flame lightens another; so, nothing more reasonably demands love, than love; and no love so powerfully commands love again as the love of God; our love cannot but be best laid out upon one who is so far before-hand with us, that even, before time prevented us: he provided for our cure, before ever we had received our wounds: for our healing, before we had contracted our diseases; for our deliverance, before we had been ruined; for our redemption, before we were in thralldom; for our rising, before we were fallen; and for our advancement to heaven, before we were become heirs of hell. Thus was our kind Redeemer rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth, and his delights were with the sons of men. The time wherein he vents his love is strange, even the time when we are most worthy of his wrath, and unworthy of his love.

In the preceding discourse, we mentioned two evidences, to know if the particular troubles and trials of our time were times of love. We intend at present to enlarge a little further upon this point. Try then if your time of need be his time of love, since infinite wisdom uses to make these two meet in the exlperiences of his own people, whose time in this world is a time of tribulation, wherein yet he has said, “In me ye shall have peace.” What time of need is it with you? Why, say you,

1. “My time is a time of want, even of outward want and poverty. I have very hard living in the world; and can such a time be a time of love? “ Answer: Yea, it may be a time of love, if your want and poverty be weaning you from the world, and winning you to Christ, in whom is all store of provision; and if you be living upon his promise and providence. Know you what it is to live upon such a promise as that; Isa. xxxiii. 16, “Bread shall be given him, and his water shall be sure?” Have you got the faith of his providence, that he feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies; and therefore you rely upon him for provision, though you should be kept as it were, from hand to mouth? Christ says to the church of Smyrna, “I know thy poverty; but thou art rich,” (Rev. 2:9). It may be said of some, Christ knows their riches, but they are poor, not having Christ for their stock and store: but happy they of whom he says, “I know thy poverty; but thou art rich;” rich in faith, rich in grace: however poor in hand, yet they are rich in bond, by virtue of the bond of the covenant, wherein they have Christ bound for their support in a present world. If you know anything of this, your time may be a time of want, and yet a time of love.

2. “But, says another, my time is a time of inward want, spiritual want; want of faith, and want of grace; and can such a time be a time of love?“

Answer: It may be so, if you are humbled under a sense of your want, and really see your want and poverty in spiritual things, you may reckon the Lord thinks upon you with thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end: “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinks upon me,” (Ps. 40:17). Yea, you may reckon that the Lord looks towards you with an eye of pity, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word,” (Isa. 61:2). And again, if your want and poverty commends Christ and his fulness to you; “To them that believe he is precious;” and even to them who believe their own want and fulness; who believe their utter insufficiency, and his infinite all-sufficiency; who believe they are nothing, and he is all in all. If you be kept empty, and sensible of your utter want, so as to have no confidence in yourselves, or in the flesh, and hence find no cause of rejoicing, but only in Christ, and his fulness, and dependent upon that, your time of want is a time of love. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” (Matt. 5:3).

3. Say you, “My time is a time of guilt; I have a sense of much guilt lying upon my conscience; and can that be a time of love, which is a time of the prevalency of sin, and the pressure of guilt?”

Answer: It may be a time of love in the following cases: —If the prevalency of sin be humbling you to the dust, saying, “O wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death?” If the pressure of guilt be leading you to the fountain of Christ’s blood for cleansing—if the pardon of sin be highly valued by you, above all things in this world, saying, “Blessed is the man whose transgressions is forgiven, and to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” And if at any time the sense of pardon, or the hope of pardon, melt your heart, and make you fear to offend any more, and afraid of falling into sin, and lead you to say, “Henceforth we will not go back; quicken us, and we will call upon thy name,” (Ps. 80:18). Do you get any grace to hate sin, and to resolve a war against it? grace to hope for victory at last, though you should fight all your life? And are you made sometimes to fight in hope of full victory through Christ, saying, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ.” In this case, thy time of sensible guilt, and of the prevalency of sin may notwithstanding be a time of love.

4. Say you, “My time is a time of weakness; I find no strength for duty, no ability for work or worship that God calls me to; and can that be a time of love?”

Answer: Why, even that time may be proven to be a time of love. If the sense of thy weakness drives thee out of thyself to the strength and sufficiency of Christ, saying with the apostle, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God,” (2 Cor. 3:5). Do you know when you are weak in yourselves, then to be strong in the Lord; strong in the grace that is in Christ? When you find in yourselves no grace to pray, yet even then have you gone to prayer, and found strength before you was aware, so as you could say, “In the day when I cried, thou answeredst me; and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul,” (Ps. 138:3). I found my soul weak and without strength; but when I began to cry in that case, he strengthened me with his secret power, his invisible hand. Did you find that he who brings light out of darkness, brought strength out of weakness? And is your weakness sometimes the occasion of magnifying and setting off the strength of Christ? according to “My grace shall be sufficient for you, and my strength shall be perfect in thy weakness,” (2 Cor. 12:9). And are you thence sometimes made to glory in your infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon you? and content that your stock of strength is not in your own hand, but in Christ’s? “Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee.” In this case, your time of weakness may be a time of love.

5. “Perhaps your time is a time of difficulty about some piece of work, some step of your pilgrimage, wherein you know not what to do; can such a time be a time of love?”

Answer: Yea, it may, in the following cases:—Are you getting grace to spread the case before the Lord, to acquaint him with your case, according to that call, “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy steps?” Do you commit the guiding of your ways to him, according to that; “Commit thy ways to the Lord; trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass?’’ (Ps. 37:5). Though you see no light, nothing but darkness, it is a sign he will direct according to his promise; “I will lead the blind in ways they know not; and in paths which they have not trod.” Are you waiting on him for his promised conduct, according to that promise, “They shall hear a voice behind them, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it?” Thy time of difficulty is a time of love; “He will guide thee with his eye.”

6. Say you, “My time is a time of great affliction; affliction on my body, affliction on my soul, affliction in my family; how shall I know if this time of affliction be a time of love?”

Answer: It is so in the following cases. Are you helped to cast your burden on the Lord, to roll this case upon him? Do you see the wisdom of God, in afflicting you, the holiness of God, the faithfulness of God, the mercy and love of God in your affliction? Do you see his name? Are you brought to submit to God, and put yourself in his hand, to lay the rod on your back as he pleases, if it be needful? And especially to look to him for sanctifying the rod, and concerned rather to have affliction sanctified, than removed, saying, O let the wind blow, till my chaff be blown away; let the fire burn, till my dross be purged out, &c. Thy time of affliction is a time of love.

7. “Oh! but my time, say you, is a time of rebellion and incorrigibleness; though I have been afflicted, yet I am not the better; I find my heart rebelling against his chastisements; and that though he hides himself, and smites, yet I go on frowardly in the way of my heart, as it is said, (Isa. 57:17). I find corruption irritated by the cross, and enmity strong; can such a time be a time of love?

Answer: It may be terrible, indeed, to think of thy rebellion against word and rod; yet thy time notwithstanding all this may be a time of love; if thy enmity be afflicting to thee, and thou heavily lamentest it before the Lord, saying, “Lord, thou seest nothing will do with me; no word, no rod: such is the power of sin and enmity: nothing but a sovereign step of grace will overcome me, therefore, ‘See my ways, and heal me,’ in a way of sovereign grace.” And dost thou therefore cast thyself down at the throne of sovereign grace, that thou mayest be conquered, pitied, and saved in this way? Art thou complaining of thy enmity before God, and of thy incorrigibleness, and waiting upon God for more and more of his power exerted for destroying it, and delivering thee? There is hope in Israel concerning thee, that thy time is a time of love; he will see thy ways, and heal thee.

But say you, “My time is a time of divine absence and anger; I think the Lord has cast me off, and can such a time be a time of love?”

Answer: Yea, it may be a time of love, notwithstanding these apprehensions of thine: if in this case thou art endeavoring, through grace, to look to the temple of God, saying, with Jonah, “I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again to thy holy temple,” (3:4). Art thou out of the belly of hell crying to God; and against hope believing in hope, looking and longing for the rising of the Sun of righteousness, and a reviving in the bondage? And while he is absent and angry, can you say, The desire of your soul is to his name? A believer at his lowest, may be known by his hidden and holy desire.

Question: When is the desire holy? Answer: 1. When you desire to be justified, that you may be sanctified; or to be pardoned that you may be purified. 2. When you desire to be saved, that God may be glorified; or to have happiness, that God may have honor.

Again, try the time of love by the remarkableness of that time. And here I would offer two things for helping your trial. 1. The remarkable parts. 2. The remarkable attendants or properties of the time of love.

1st, Try the remarkable parts of it; I mean, 1. The commencement or morning of it. 2. The progress or mid-day; of the time of love; for it never has an evening.

1. One of the remarkable parts of it is, the commencement thereof; preparatively, by the law; effectively, by the gospel.

(1.) Preparatively, by the law; giving a view of sin and the wrath of God for sin; for people never value the revelation of the love of God in the gospel, unless they have got a revelation of the wrath of God in the law: has ever the commandment come? Was you ever brought to the foot of Sinai, and there got you a discovery of your sin and guilt, and of the wrath of God you deserve, making you tremble, and fear hell and damnation, saying, O what shall I do? I cannot live, and I dare not die: “What shall I do to be saved?” Have you come under the spirit of bondage and conviction?

(2.) Effectively, by the gospel: the law breaks the hard heart, but the gospel melts it. A stone duly broken, may be still a hard stone; but the gospel melts, the Sun of righteousness dissolves, and that partly by the revelation of mercy to the sinful, guilty creature, partly, by the particular offer of mercy; here is mercy for you, a Christ for you, salvation for you, that deserved damnation: O this melts! And partly by the Spirit of faith, given to fall in with the gospel, and receive Christ for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and to enlist with Jesus Christ.—Then the time of love is commenced in the soul.

2. The other remarkable part of the time of love, is the progress thereof. The time of love is continued, and the design of love carried on more and more. And that,

(1.) By teaching ordinances; as “Faith comes by hearing;” so, the increase of faith by hearing more and more.

(2.) By sealing ordinances, and solemn occasions; they see his power and glory in the sanctuary; get here a little and there a little. And,

(3.) By crosses and judgments; for, “By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is the fruit of all, to take away sin. It was good for me that I was afflicted, for now I have learned thy law.”

(4.) By mercies outward and inward; they are brought to fear the Lord and his goodness; get new discoveries of his glory from time to time, new communications of his grace, new restorations after decays: “He restoreth my soul;” and new conversions, as it is said to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren;” and David, “Restore to me the joy of thy salvation; then will I teach transgressors thy way.” They get new excitations and up-stirrings; new drawings, new quickenings, new gales, of the Spirit. By these means, the time of love is continued, even to the believer’s sense now and then; and the design of love carried on.—This is the progress thereof.

2dly, Try the time of love by the remarkable attendants and properties thereof.

(1.) Try it by the remarkable attendants of it. I only mention two of them.

1. It is attended with remarkable power, (Ps. 110:3). The time of love is called a day of power: but how can this power be remarked? Why, how do we remark the power of God in the works of creation, but by the effects thereof in the visible heavens, sun, moon, and stars? so, how do we remark the power of God in the work of grace, but by this effect thereof, our being made willing? The invisible power of God may be known by this effect. But many say, they are willing who are not truly so. Question: When is one made truly willing?

Answer: There are four properties of true willingness. (1.) It is a pleasant willingness, not constrained by terror or dread only; but made freely willing, pleasantly willing. And this pleasant willingness hath two things in it, joy and generosity. It has joy in it; the man is glad to sell all, that he may buy the pearl. It has generosity in it; he would give a world for Christ: nay a thousand worlds for him, had he them at his command.

(2) It is a present willingness; the man goes in presently to the call, according to that, “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” Many are content of Christ for the future, and they delay till some other time; but they are not for Christ’s being a present portion; it is otherwise with such who are made willing.

(3.) It is a peremptory willingness: the soul says, O! I must have Christ; I cannot want him; I cannot live without him; I cannot die without him; I perish without him; give me Christ; or else I die.

(4) It is an universal willingness; the soul is made willing to have Christ for sanctification, as well as righteousness; to be saved from sin, as well as from wrath; to have Christ and his cross, as well as Christ and his crown.

2. It is attended with remarkable light and knowledge, (2 Cor. 4:6). Try then your time of love by its being a time of light, and saving knowledge.—And this knowledge is remarkable for these four properties. (1.) It is a down-casting knowledge and light; “The loftiness of man is brought low, and the Lord alone exalted,” (Isa. 2:11). Other knowledge and learning puffeth up; the more a man hath of it, he is the more proud; but this knowledge casts him down to the dust, down to the ground; it casts down self, and self-righteousness, self-wisdom, self-love, and self-seeking.

(2.) It is an uplifting knowledge; it exalts Christ in the heart, and lifts up the heart in the ways of the Lord, in respect of satisfaction; it brings in satisfaction to the heart and conscience; this water being given the man thirsts no more, in respect of absolute want, (John 4:14).—Nothing satisfies him but this knowledge of Christ; or, rather this Christ made known.

(3.) It is a singular knowledge; singular in respect of the object, author, and subject.—The object is a God in Christ; whatever men know, if they know not God in Christ, they are miserable; though they had all scriptural knowledge, if they want the knowledge of Christ, it may be said of them, They know nothing as they ought to know. In paradise, there were many trees, and every one good; but only one tree of life: in the scriptures, many truths, and all good; but there is only one tree of life there; and we perish, if we eat not that.—The Author of this knowledge is God: “Flesh and blood has not revealed these things to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.”—The subjects are ordinarily poor babes, who have neither wisdom nor prudence, in respect of others in the world; “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hath hid these things from the wise and prudent, and halt revealed them to babes,” (Matt. 11:25). Some are capable of this knowledge of Christ, that are not capable of other learning.—A wooden candlestick can hold a candle as well as a silver one; so are these capable of the knowledge of Christ, that are destitute of outward ornaments and literature.

(4.) It is a warming and working light and knowledge. We know so much of God and Christ, as we are affected, touched, and wrought upon. It is said, “They that handle the law, know not God,” (Jer. 2:8). Some may handle the law, and yet not know God: they may handle the gospel, and yet not know Christ, by his special, singular, and saving knowledge: they may have a vast deal of head knowledge; but a spark in the heart is worth a torch in the brain. The knowledge of Christ feeds all graces. It feeds faith; “They that know his name will put their trust in him.” It feeds repentance; “They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and mourn.” It feeds love; they only who know him to be altogether lovely, do truly love him. It feeds all grace; strengthening all grace.—Examine this knowledge, and be sure you find the difference between it and the form of knowledge, which never warms the heart, or works any change in you; it is but like the sun painted upon a board for a sign; you call it a sun, but it has no sunlight, no sun-influence, no sun-warmth; so you may call that the knowledge of Christ, which hypocrites and profane graceless men may have; you may call it knowledge, but is but a form, a shadow, a picture; there is nothing of the light, heat, and influence that will take place when you come to the true light.—Examine yourself by these things.

[2.] There are some remarkable properties of the time of love by which you may try.

1. It is a time of remarkable joy and sorrow; sorrowing for sin, and yet rejoicing in the Lord: “They shall come with weeping; and with supplications I will lead them;” or with favor, (Jer. 31:9). He leads them with weeping, and with singing; weeping, for their sins; and singing, for his favors. The time of love is called, “A time of the singing of birds, and the voice of the turtle;” (Song 2:11), which, applied to the believer, is his mournful notes. It is remarkable, that the book of Lamentations is all poetical; every chapter, except the third, has twenty-two verses; and every verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet; the first verse with the first letter Aleph; the second verse, with the second letter, Beth; and so on to the close; and the third chapter has sixty-six verses, and every three verses begins with a letter thereof, three times over; the first three verses begins with the first letter, three times over; the second three verses, beginning with the second letter, three times over, and so on. What is the meaning of all this, but to show that a time of mourning and lamentation may be to the Lord’s people a time of mirth and holy music? and ordinarily it is so: and when hath the believer more joy, than when in a flood of tears before the Lord?

2. It is a time of prayer; and very remarkable for it.

Question: What is there remarkable in the prayers of these, whose time is a time of love?

Answer: There are two remarkable outpourings, viz. the outpouring of the Spirit, mentioned, (Zech. 12:10); and the outpouring of the heart, mentioned, (Ps. 62:7). When these two concur, then it discovers a time of love. At other times prayer comes drop by drop, as water out of a still; but then it comes plentifully as water out of a fountain. See Isaiah 26:16.

3. It is a time of praise; the heart is filled with the high praises of God. And this heart-exercise takes in both admiration and invitation: admiration, O wonder! says the soul, that ever God manifested his love to the like of me, “What am I, or my father’s house?” Invitation, to all the creatures to help them to praise; “O let sun, moon, and stars praise him.” This seems to be the temper of the heavenly harpers in their hallelujahs, “Praise ye the Lord,” importing, that they cannot praise him; therefore let all the creation help us to praise; “Praise ye the Lord.”

4. It is a time of love, a loving time; for love manifested begets love; the love of God kindles love in us in the time of love; and it is remarkable in two things. The love that results from the manifesting of divine love, gives, first the heart; and secondly the hand to the Son of God.—The heart; “My son, give me thy heart.” Many say they love Christ, and yet give their heart to the world, and to their lusts; but as Delilah said to Samson, “How canst thou say, that thou lovest me, when thy heart is not toward me?” (Judges 16:15). So, how can you say, that you love Christ, when your heart is not toward him, but given away to other lovers? If Christ be your treasure, your heart will be set upon him.—Again, the hand is given to him, to serve and work for him; we read of the labor of love. As Jacob served for love to Rachel, so the love of Christ constrains to this service; “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” It is true, the believer’s heart may frequently misgive him, and then he draws away his hand too; but this is not acted like a believer; this is his burden and disease; and he is never himself till his heart and hand be both given to the Son of God.—Try yourself by these things.

We shall now shut up our present exercise, with a short address to you whose time, either formerly has been, or at present is a time of love. And our advice to you is, O render unto the Lord, love for love. And to induce you hereunto,

1. Consider, how absolutely free, unmerited, and undeserved his love was to you. There was nothing that could induce him to love you; everything about you was wretchedness and misery, as we endeavored to show, in tracing the connection where our text lies. You were lying in your blood, no eye to pity you: and yet, in these deplorable circumstances, in his passing by, “Behold, your time was a time of love.” It was said of Mary, that she loved much, because much was forgiven her. Well, see that you love the Lord more than ever, because much iniquity hath been forgiven you, and much love conferred upon you. “Thy time was a time of love.”

2. Consider, in order to persuade you to render him love for love, that he was beforehand in his love towards you: his love prevented yours; and if it had not been so, your time could never have been a time of love. Therefore, says the apostle, “We love him, because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19). Let the priority of his love to you, influence you to love him. “Behold, thy time was a time of love!”

3. Consider, what an agreeable and comfortable time your time of love was, when he brought you into the banquetting-house, and displayed his banner of love over you. When you was enjoying these love-calls, love-visits, love-tokens, love-looks, and feasting upon the loving-kindness of God; how was your soul ravished with his love! Were you not made to cry out, “O the height, the breadth, the depth, and the length of the love of God!” Should not this, then, be a powerful motive to engage you to render him love for love? And is it not the best way to have his love-interviews continued with you? “O love the Lord, all ye his saints. Keep yourselves in the love of God.” We might adduce many other considerations to persuade you to this, but we defer them at present we may, perhaps, have an opportunity afterwards.

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