THE TIME OF NEED, A TIME OF LOVE.
[The fifth 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
There are two words that should take up most of our thoughts and cares, namely, Time and Eternity: time, because it will soon be at an end; and eternity, because it will never come to an end. The candle of time is fast burning, and if we play the fool, and be idle about eternal work, till the candle be burnt out, we will have ourselves to thank, if we go to bed in the dark; I mean, if we go to death and eternity, under the dark cloud of God’s wrath, we cannot expect, unless we are madly deceiving ourselves, an eternity of happiness in the other world, if we are strangers to a time of love in this world; for, whom God loved with an everlasting love from eternity, he draws them with loving-kindness in time, that he may crown them with loving-kindness to eternity. His everlasting love, in point of manifestation, hath its beginning in time, upon all the objects thereof; and these in whom it has no beginning in time, will be the objects and vassals of wrath forever. It is therefore a matter of the highest moment, to know what takes place in time now, and if your time be a time of love.
We have not only finished the doctrinal part of this subject; but also insisted at considerable length, on the application, in the prosecution of several uses. It now remains that we conclude the subject with an use of Exhortation. And our exhortation shall be tendered to two sorts of persons: 1. To these whose time never was a time of love. 2. To these whose time has been such a time of love as I have spoken of.
First, We tender our exhortation to you whose time never was a time of love; I mean you, who notwithstanding of your living under a loving dispensation of divine grace, by the gospel, yet have never seen or believed the love and grace of God in Christ, so far as to draw out your heart-love to Christ. I would say to you,
1st, O consider what a miserable state you are in, and like to be into to all eternity. In time you are miserable; for, you are empty of all good, and full of all evil. How empty are you of all good, while you are without Christ, and love to him, having nothing of the love of Christ! you have no good in you; you would think it a bad house to dwell in, where there is neither meat, nor drink, nor clothes; but a worse house is your heart, while you have neither God, nor Christ, nor the Spirit. How full are you of evil, while destitute of the love of Christ! Full of enmity against God, full of sin, full of hell, full of the devil, full of the wrath of God: it abideth upon you, and you are exposed to the utmost measure of it. You are miserable through all eternity, if you live and die in that state: “If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be ANATHEMA MARANATHA, [that is, accursed until Christ come,”] (1 Cor. 16:22). Let him come under the sentence of the greater excommunication, of being forever banished from the presence of God.
2dly, Consider how it comes about, that your love goes not out after Christ, when you live in a time wherein his love and loveliness are manifested. Surely it must be from some desperate enmity. Have you not heard of his fame? Is there anything in all the world challenges your love so much? If you have heard and forgotten, I will just now lay before you so much of the loveliness of Christ as may for ever render you inexcusable, if you henceforth fall not in love with him above all things else. Consider what he is in himself, what he is to God, what he is to you, sinner.
[1.] Consider what he is in himself. Is he not altogether lovely, considered either in his natures or person?
1. View him in his natures, divine and human. In his divine nature, he is God’s equal: “Who thinks it no robbery to be equal with God;” he is the true God, and eternal life; and has in him all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, that is, personally: “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.” In his human nature, view his body and soul. His human body now glorified in heaven, what a glorious body is it The apostle speaks of the glory of bodies terrestrial and celestial; how much more glorious are celestial above terrestrial! And how glorious above all celestial bodies is that of the Lord Jesus Christ! When Paul, at his conversion, got a view of it in a vision, it exceeded the sky in its meridian brightness. His human soul, how much more lovely is that! By how much the soul is beyond the body, by so much the soul is more glorious than the body. All the excellent qualities that ever adorned a soul are in him to perfection; and besides these, a supereminent unction of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit above measure, whereby he is immensely full of grace and truth. He is thus the most amiable object, viewed in both his natures human and divine, distinctly. But beside this,
2. View him in the union of both these natures, as different, as finite and infinite, in one person: This brings God down to man as near as he can come, and raises man up to God as high he can ascend. What a terror might unveiled Deity be to guilty sinners, were it not allayed with the veil of humanity! But O how fit a Mediator is he, being Immanuel, God-man! Thus he has a divine fulness and sufficiency to save us, together with a human meetness and congruity, for applying it in a manner most suitable and proper to our condition. Now, may not that question be forever silenced with contempt, What is the Christian’s Beloved more than another’s beloved, that he should be so mightily extolled? Is there one in the world so lovely and glorious? Is he not white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand?
[2.] Consider what he is to God; particularly in these two respects.
1. Is he not God’s darling? Has not the Father testified his love to Christ above all things else? “Behold my Servant, whom I uphold; mine Elect, in whom my soul delighteth,” (Isa. 43:1). “This is my beloved Son, in whom 1 am well-pleased,” (Mark 1: 11). What honor consequently has he put upon him, in raising him from the dead, and setting him at his own right hand, and giving him a name above every name, committing all judgment, yea all things into his hand. He is the Son of his love. We are then to love Christ for his own sake and his Father’s sake; and ought we not to love him as the Father’s favorite? Is it not a sufficient incentive to our love, that, beside his own personal amiable qualities, he is so much the object of the Father’s love.
2. Is he not the Father’s representative? God’s greatest representative, in whom he displays all his perfection? (2 Cor. 6:6; John 14:9; John 1:18). The representations of the divine glory in Christ, exceeds all other representations, in these particulars.
(1.) It is the brightest: the glory of God shines nowhere so brightly, as in his infinitely fair face, who is therefore called the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image (or representation) of his person, (Heb. 1:3).
(2.) It is the fullest: the representation of God’s glory, in the work of creation and providence, set forth, in a most illustrious manner, some of his perfections; but here all his glory shines with inconceivable brightness; all his attributes, even his mercy and truth, meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Here they all shine with a peculiar luster, and harmoniously conspire and center.
(3.) It is the most intimate and propitious: how could God reveal himself more nearly, than through the flesh of his Son? How more graciously, than by giving him to us, and for us? How more kindly could he represent his infinite justice and holiness, than as vindicated, satisfied, and glorified in Christ, by whom grace reigns, through righteousness, unto eternal life.
(4.) It is the most safe representation of the divine glory, and secure from being perverted to an undue exaltation of the medium: for, the glory of God, represented by the heavens, has been abused to idolatry, men worshipping the means by which God manifests himself, but here there is a safe representation; the mean and end meet in one: we cannot put too much honor upon Christ; “He that honors him, honors the Father.”
(5.) It is the most mysterious: here is the wisdom of God in a mystery, the manifold wisdom of God; such a large compass, both in contrivance and execution, that none can penetrate into the depth.
(6.) It is the most durable and permanent: “The earth shall wax old as a garment; but my salvation (through Christ) shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished,” (Isa. 51:6). God will never cease to manifest his glory through Christ; though there may be different ways of that manifestation, yet it will be to eternity; “The Lord God, and the Lamb, is the light of the place,” (Rev. 21:23). “The throne of God is the throne of the Lamb; and his throne is for ever and ever,” (Rev. 22:3).
Now, consider what a sacred and precious thing the divine glory is, above all other concerns; and that a proportional love and esteem is due to things, according to the impressions of God upon them, and their reference to God’s glory. Doth not Christ then challenge our highest love and esteem on this account, besides what he merits from us by his original intrinsic excellency.
[3.] Consider, what he is to us, or what relation he stands in to sinners; and what he has done, or is doing, by virtue of that relation.
1. What relation he stands in to us, sinners, as a Saviour of God’s appointing and anointing: “We testify that God sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world,” (1 John 4:14). He is a Saviour of sinners by office; and should not sinners love their Saviour, and employ him? Should we not love him with a love of desire, to close with him as our Saviour; and then with a love of delight in him? The general relation to us arising from his partaking of the same nature, is the foundation of a particular relation, and should be improven to the nearest relation of being mystically one.
2. What he has done and is doing. He came from heaven to earth to seek and to save lost sinners; he made himself in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; excepted as to the inhesion of it, which was absolutely remote from him, but not excepted as to the imputation of it; for, “He bore our sins in his own body,” and submitted to have the iniquities of us all laid upon him, that he, as our Surety, might become accountable and answerable for them; and as the Lamb of God, sacrificed for us, might take them away; finding us obliged to the perfect obedience the law required, but utterly unable to perform it, and so cut off from the remotest possibility of ever obtaining that life it was ordained to convey; he yielded, in our place, an obedience to it absolutely perfect, and meritorious of eternal life, and gives this his righteousness to us, to become our title to heaven and eternal happiness: finding us pressed down under an immense debt to divine justice, and the penalty of the law, he took it on himself, paid it off, and discharges us by suffering for us; thus he is the end of the law, and perfection of it, for righteousness, which we could never attain ourselves, but do now in him, the end and determination of its penal sanction: finding us in prison, bound with the fetters of our own iniquities, held in the cords of sin and misery, and reserved to the day of wrath and vengeance, he comes and visits us in our prison, and is content to be kept there for a time, in our room, till he should satisfy for our crimes, that we might be set at liberty: finding us under the curse, he is made a curse for us, that we might be redeemed from it: finding us doomed to death, he died for us, that we might live; finding us lying under the edge of the flaming sword of vindictive justice, he put his own neck upon the block, and made his soul an offering for sin; finding a cup of heavy wrath and indignation prepared for us, he took it out of our hands into his own, and drank it off, in our stead, that we might not have the least drop to our own share, but in lieu of it a cup of salvation for us to drink.
Was there ever love like Christ’s, which such floods of tribulation could not quench or drown! Though he was God, yet he became man: yea “His visage was more marred than any man, and his form more than the sons of men,” (Isa. 52:14). So that he was so far from appearing like a God, that he scarce looked like a man, but rather as a worm, (Ps. 22:7). A worm trampled on by all; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. Why all this, but that his love might shine the brighter through the dark shades that eclipsed his glory? The more he lessened his person, the higher he raised his love, which appeared in all his fulness, while the other disappeared, as it were, for a season, and seemed to fade away. Thus he is amiable in his poverty: for, “He was made poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich: “amiable in his stripes, whereby we are healed: amiable in all the amazing instances of self-abasement, providing for the greatest happiness to us, at the greatest expense to himself.
Ought he not to be loved, who thus has loved us unto death? Who must be loved if not he? And how sweetly may the love of a believer entertain itself at the very cross of Christ, which is a tree of life: of life to us, though it was a tree of death to him: a tree of blessedness to us, though a tree of bitterness to him? We may gaze at the cross, and Christ hanging upon it, and have loving, ravishing prospects here, without the least partaking of the distress and bitter anguish of spirit Christ endured upon it: for the cross of Christ being the greatest proof and pledge of his love, ought to be the joy, crown, and glory of every beholder; and viewed, not with a sad, heavy and fearful, but with a glad, cheerful, and joyful heart; at which we are to dry up every tear of heart-breaking grief, and vent none but tears of joy, mixed only with these of sweet relenting sorrow; mourning over sin, which by no means mars, but friendly accords with this joy. We may sit under the shadow of his cross with great delight, with a rejoicing heart, and find all the fruits of it, being fruits of love, grace, favor, and happiness, inexpressibly sweet to our taste. Here the horror of his cursed, painful, and shameful death, can by no means damp the joy and satisfaction: “Weep not for me,” said Christ. Why? his sufferings were voluntarily necessary, designed for an happy issue; and it was not possible he could be swallowed up, or consumed by them; and they are now long since past and gone, as to the smart he felt below, though abiding still in their virtue, use, and excellent fruits, and are now so many trophies of honor; beauties instead of blemishes, and highest matter of glory and triumph: hence he appears in heaven with the marks of his bleeding wounds, “A Lamb as it had been slain in the midst of the throne.” The shame and pain of his cross, redounds to him for an ensign of honor and eternal glory; a perpetual memorial of his love, merit, and victory.
3. What is he still doing? Still pursuing the same kind design, though in a new manner. As his love was proved here by poverty and tribulation, it is now proved by a fulness of glory and power: his love was here in labor and distress for us; now it is enthroned and triumphing, yet still for us also. He remembers us so as to think himself imperfect and incomplete, and as only half glorified till we come to be glorified together with him. As he laid down one life for us on earth, so he employs another for our use in heaven; living there to intercede in virtue of the obligations he made, (Heb. 7:25); living there to send down his Spirit, as a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, of grace, supplication, sanctification, and consolation; and to lead, guide, direct, begin, and carry on his good work; make application of his redemption; living to execute his offices fully, which he happily began on earth; and to perform his promises, that are Yea and Amen in him. Is there no loveliness here? Is this love and loveliness of Christ discovered to you, and yet no time of love with you? No love of desire after him wrought in you? How inexcusable art thou, and wilt thou be, that loves vanity instead of him!
Secondly, We next direct our exhortation in a word to these whose time has been a time of love. And these are of two sorts; either such as doubt if their time has been a time of love, or such as are assured their time has been a time of love.
1st, Such as doubt of it, and yet their time has really been a time of love. These doubters are of two sorts: some are waking and mourning doubters; others are sleeping and slumbering doubters.
[1.] Some are waking and mourning in their doubts, and apprehensive that they never had a time of love. “Alas! say such, many a sermon and sacrament have I attended; but, to this day, I never met with a time of love: woe is me, that I cannot get a discovery of the glory and loveliness of Christ, nor my heart engaged to love him!” If this be thy case and exercise, mourning and crying, O for a time of love! There are two scriptures I would direct you to for relief.
1. If you are mourning and in heaviness because you reckon your time has not been a time of love, or of power; “He is anointed to give these that mourn in Zion, beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise, for the spirit of heaviness,” (Isa. 61:1-3).
2. If you are crying for a time of love; “He is a God of judgment; and blessed are all these that wait for him. He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee,” (Isa. 30:18-19). He will turn at a cry, as that word need signifies; “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:16). Pressing need, that makes you cry: he turns, as it were, at the cry, according to the promise here, “He will be very gracious to thee at the voice of thy cry.” Therefore wait patiently, hopefully, and carefully for him, who has either begun, or is beginning the good work.
[2.] Some are sleeping and slumbering doubters, that have had a time of love, but now it is out of sight, by reason of their backsliding, and leaving their first love. To you I would say,
1. O remember whence thou hast fallen, and repent, and do thy first works! Consider what answer you will have to these questions: What iniquity have you found in him, that you have gone far from him? Have you seen anything in Christ to alienate your affections from him? Was he ever worse than his word? Or, is there an uncomeliness in his way? What comeliness have you seen in other lovers? Have you found any other object like him? Is there any among the creatures that can do for you, what he has done? Can the world give you that which he has to give you? Do you find rest and satisfaction to your heart and conscience elsewhere? What sweet days had you once when your heart went out after him? Could you not then have said, “My Beloved is mine, and his desire is towards me, and the desire of my soul is towards him,” when he brought you to the banquetting-house, and displayed his banner of love over you, making you to drink of the spiced wines? May not a reflection upon these sweet days you had, when his candle shined upon you, break your heart, that now you are set to the back of the door, and say, “O that it were with me as in months past?” What sad days have you had since you departed from him, and was shut out of doors, and had a screen drawn between him and you? What a sad change is there, when you want that sweet communion with him that once you had? O then! remember whence you have fallen.
2. Return to him, saying, “I will go and return to my first husband. Return, ye backsliding children, though you have played the harlot with many lovers, for I am married unto you, saith the Lord. I hate putting away. I am God, and change not: therefore you are not consumed.” Return for he stands ready to heal your backslidings.
To both sorts, whether you be waking or sleeping Christians, to whom a time of love is dubious, I would exhort you to hear his loving cries after you, and let it be followed with your cries after him.
(1.) Hear His loving cries after you. One cry he sends after you, is that of the angels; “Behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy; for to you is born a Saviour which is Christ the Lord. To you a child is born, to you a son is given,” (Luke 2:10). Another cry after you is that; “Behold! I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in, and sup with him, and he with me,” (Rev. 3:20). He is seeking to sup with you, to have communion with you, and you with him. “I am knocking at the door of your understanding, at the door of your wills, at the door of your hearts and affections: do you not hear me knocking? Another call is that; Son. “Open to me, my sister, my spouse, my love, my dove; for my head is filled with dew, and, my locks with the drops of the night,” (Song 5:2). I have suffered the midnight shower and storm of divine wrath for you, it fell on my head; I have suffered for you, and now I am here ready to apply the blessing of my blood; open to me: I own you for my love, my dove, and my undefiled, having no spot but what my grace shall cover. Another cry is that; “Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him,” (Song 3:11). He is holding forth the sceptre to thee, to go forth by faith and take a view of him, till your heart be fully satisfied? O come, taste and see; come and see him; see what he has done for you, what he is doing for you, and what he will do for you. Another cry is that; “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Are your sins great and many? yet, O let no sin keep you away “The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin:” there is infinite virtue in that blood for making you perfectly clean. Another cry is that; “All things are ready, come to the marriage,” (Matt. 22:40). O was you never married to the Son of God? Come, and be the bride the Lamb’s wife; give your heart and hand to him, and take hold of him for your Head, Husband, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Or, have you been already, married to Christ? O come and get confirmation: get a new token of his love; come to the marriage-supper of the Lamb. Another cry is, in case you think it is not a free wedding; “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye; buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money, and without price,” (Isa. 55:1) The poorer you are, the welcomer to the market; no money here is good price: here is grace and glory freely: “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” But, are you sighing under the burden of sin and guilt? Then another cry is, “Come to me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest to your souls:” (Matt. 11:28). Come, and get rest to your minds in him, who, as a Prophet, is the wisdom of God: come, and get rest to your conscience in him, who, as a Priest, is the righteousness of God; come, and get rest to your hearts in him, who, as a King, is the power of God, and has all the riches of divine fulness in him. Another cry that he is sending after you is; “Return, O backsliding children: for I am married unto you, and I will heal your backslidings,” (Jer. 3:14, 22) As if he had said, “However grievously you have revolted and rebelled from the womb unto this moment, all bygones shall be bygones; only henceforth let it be a bargain between you and me, an everlasting bargain never to be forgotten.” Another cry after you is; “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rocks, and in the secret places of the stairs, let me hear thy voice, let me see thy countenance; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely,” (Song. 2:14). “Do not hide your face from me for shame, might he say; do not blush to look to me, nor be afraid to speak to me; come boldly to my throne of grace, for I delight to hear thy voice of prayer and praise, though it be but a mourning like a dove; and I delight to see you coming boldly and confidently, depending upon me: you need not fear to face me, for I am your kindly suitor; come, trembling dove, and flee into my bosom.” Hear his loving cries after you.
(2.) Let it be followed with an echo from you, even with a load cry after him. I will tell you some of the cries you may send after him. One is; “O Lord, for thy name’s sake, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great,” (Ps. 25:11). Let not your great sin hinder your crying after him, but be made an argument, inducing you to cry after him more ardently and fervently. Another cry is; “O bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, and they shall melt,” (Ps. 144:5). Mountains are in the way, but let them skip like lambs, and the little hills like rams, at the presence of the Lord. Another cry you may send after him is; “Draw me, we will run after thee,” (Song. 1:4) “Put forth thy drawing power; for I cannot come, I cannot move, I cannot stir without thee; but I promise to run if thou draw.” Another cry you may send after him, is that of blind Bartimeus; “Lord, that I may receive my sight,” (Mark 10:51). “O enlighten my eyes, that I may know the mysteries of the gospel, that I may see the glory, grace, and love of Christ.” Another cry is; “Return, O Lord, how long? O satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may be glad and rejoice all our days,” (Ps. 90:13, 14). “Thou hast an infinite ocean of mercy, O let the waves of the ocean reach my soul! pardoning mercy, purifying mercy.” Another cry is; “Till the day break, and the shadows flee away; turn, my Beloved, and be thou like a roe, or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether,” (Song. 2:17). “I want ability to mount up the hills of sin, guilt, and difficulty between thee and me; but it is the glory of the roe to ascend the rocks and mountains: O get glory this way! “ Another cry is; “Awake, O north wind: come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live,” (Song. 4:16). “O send the promised Spirit like water upon the thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground.” Another cry you should give after him that is thus crying on you is; “Behold, we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God,” (Jer. 3:22); and with the poor man in the gospel, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief O send forth thy light and thy truth to lead me.”
2dly, We come next to address ourselves to these who are more assured their time has been a time of love. I offer these four advices following.
[1.] Do not deny or disown the time of love; beware of questioning if ever such a time went over you. Do not deny it to your fellow Christians that you may have it to say, “Come hither all ye that fear the Lord, and I will tell you what he has done to my soul.” Do not deny it to God, that you may have it to say, “O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord.” And that you may maintain your confidence before him.
[2.] In all time coming, remember the time of love, for it may be very serviceable to you. In the time of temptation, remember the time of love; wherein God becomes forthcoming, that, with the temptation, he would give a way of escape. In the time of tribulation, remember the time of love; when it was secured, that he would be with you in trouble. In time of desertion remember the time of love; wherein it was promised, he would never leave you nor forsake you. In time of defection and backsliding, remember the time of love; wherein it was secured, that he would heal your backslidings, and love you freely, and restore your soul. In time of want and poverty, remember the time of love; when you were made to believe that your God should supply all your needs, according to his riches, in glory, by Christ Jesus. In the time of reproach for his sake, remember the time of love; wherein it was insured, that, “If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of God and of glory resteth upon you.” In the time of man’s wrath, rage and persecuting fury, remember the time of love; wherein it was secured, that the wrath of man should praise him, and that the remainder of his wrath he would restrain. In the time of divine wrath, heavy judgments, and gloomy, terrible dispensations, remember the time of love; wherein it was promised, that though in a little wrath he should hide himself for a moment, yet with everlasting mercy he would gather thee: (see Isa. 54:7, 8). In a time of sin and corruption prevailing, remember the time of love; wherein you was made to say, “Though iniquities prevail, yet as for our transgressions thou wilt purge them away.” In a time of sorrow and heaviness, remember the time of love; and then you may be led to say, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise him.” In a time of danger, remember the time of love, as did the apostle; “We had the sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust, that he will yet deliver us, (2 Cor. 1:10). He delivered me from the paw of the lion, and mouth of the bear, and will he not deliver from the hand of this uncircumcised Philistine?” In a time of diffidence and distrust, remember the time of love, as a notable means and motive to faith; “This I recall to mind, therefore have I hope:” (Lam. 3:21-23) This, what is it he recalls to mind? even the time of love and mercy that follows: “It is of the Lord’s mercy we are not consumed, and because his compassions fail not: they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.” In a time of darkness, remember the time of love; and then you may say, “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me; the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.” In a time of deadness, remember the time of love, and say, “Quicken thou me, according to thy word.” In a time of weakness, remember the time of love, and the words of love: “My grace shall be sufficient for you, and my strength shall be perfected in your weakness.” In a time of death, remember the time of love; and in the believing remembrance thereof, you may say, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, and thy rod and staff they comfort me. O death, where is thy sting,? O grave, where is thy victory?”
[3.] Has ever your time of need been his time of love; then in all future times of need come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may find grace in time of need: for, the time of love, in times of need formerly, secures his loving help in all time of need to come: only observe these rules about help in time of need.
1. “That your expectation of things not necessary, or absolutely needful, may fail you.” You may be in a delusion in your expectation of certain out-gates you would have, and of sensible comforts at all times; but you shall never be in a delusion in your expectation of needful help from the throne of grace; the matchless God of Jeshurun rides in heaven, for the help of his people, and in his excellency on the sky, (Deut. 33:26).
2. “That needful help and support comes from the same throne from which sensible comforts come.” It is remarkable, you are called to come boldly to that throne, for these things you may be always sure to find there, namely, “Mercy and grace to help in time of need; “ you are not assured always of sensible comforts there; be content of support promised in time of need; and remember, it is no little mercy to get a little help; that the same love may be read in the meanest, lowest measure of grace and mercy that is to be read in the greatest; they come from the same fountain, the same throne of grace.
3. “That they that get this help may lay their account, notwithstanding, to be kept weak and infirm.” Look not for such help in this world as shall make you no more poor and needy beggars at the throne of grace; help and assistance, you know, is for weak and infirm people. Look not for help that will make you better stored in yourselves than you were before; you must be kept poor and needy, that the Lord may think upon you, as the Psalmist says, (Ps. 40:17); and as it is, (Dan. 11:34), you must be content to be holden with a little help, and kept from crushing, though you be holden in the dust: “Troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down but not destroyed,” (2 Cor. 4:8-9). Lay your account, though you get help, that, as it finds you weak, so it will keep you weak in yourselves, and yet do your turn.
4. “Help is given to them who have their hand at a turn.” We do not speak of helping or assisting such as desire and endeavor to do nothing themselves; so here, expect not help but in God’s way, and about his hand, and his throne; aiming at duty, though you are not able to go through it; when thy heart is overwhelmed, and yet thou art crying, when thou art sinking, it is in that posture, needful help uses to be given, (Ps. 61:1-2).
5. “That help comes not, and is not to be expected, till a time of need, and pressing need; such as puts you to cry under the pressure of the need; as I said before, the word in the original signifies to turn at a cry, as God promises to do,” (Isa. 30:19). People would be content of help if they could get it beside them, always at hand; but, says the apostle, a time of need shall come, and help in a time of need; “In due time you shall reap if you faint not.” This may be a cure to all anxiety about what shall happen hereafter, or what may be before us. We have no strength to grapple with such unforeseen difficulties; why, but let us remember we are to be busy at the present work of the day, and leave the next day to God, who gives help in time of need: as Christ says in another case, “Take no thought for tomorrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself; sufficient for the day is the evil thereof,” (Matt. 6:34). What have we to do with help till it be needed? To what purpose is it to have Jordan running dry, till the priests’ feet be set in the water? To what purpose is it to know wherewith we shall serve the Lord, till we come thither? And then it shall be given in the hour it is needed, as Christ says, of speaking to enemies, much more in speaking to our best friend. This may assure us also, that we cannot expect help till we cry, as David, “Out of the depths have I cried to thee.” We are many times in distress murmuring and not crying; we need help, but are not seeking help; God is an observing God as well as a hearing God; he would have us cry when he requires us.
6. “Though secret support may be given to them that cry under their need, yet satisfying help may be delayed for a time.” And there are several causes of this delay; some relative to ourselves and some relative to the church, or the public.
(1.) Some causes relative to ourselves. The Lord will not always help when we are pressed under the need of help, that puts us to cry, until the trial comes to the utmost extremity; “He will judge his people, and he will repent himself for his servants, when he sees that there is none shut up or left,” (Deut. 32:26). As long as we have anything, that looks like doing our own turn without him, he will lie by )Ps. 94:16). It is not till the Psalmist said, “My foot slippeth,” (Ps. 94:18), and I am just falling over, that needful help comes; but then, “Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.” Thus with Abraham in the matter of offering up his son Isaac, (Gen. 22:10-11). The Lord is not seen in the mount, till the knife is at the throat of Isaac. This is the Lord’s way, not to come just when we are really pressed, and hard put to it; as long as there is a step further for the difficulty to go, he may let the trial go on before he comes with help, that we may be humbled under the pressures, under the guilt that drew them on; and that we may be put in a capacity of esteeming it a great mercy, when we are thus helped with a little help.
(2.) Relative to the public. The Lord suspends many a time, at least, the comfortable help of particular saints, till he bring up the public interest with it; and it is not unsuitable to see the children in distress, while the mother is wearing a mourning weed. Desertions are not readily the less frequent among saints that God covers himself in a cloud in his anger from Zion; but there is a blessed time of relief coming, as you may read, (Ps. 102:20-22; vv. 16-17). When the Lord appears in his glory to build up Zion, then he will hear the prayer of the destitute, and the groaning of the prisoners. As we use to say, when a thaw comes after a great frost, or rain after a great drought, it loses many prisoners; so when a shower of the divine influences come from above upon the church, and an out-pouring of the Spirit, then many prisoners shall be set at liberty, many bonds shall be loosed, many a cord broken, that is fettering the people of God: therefore, we are to wait the Lord’s time of giving needful help, and be thankful for needful supports, though we yet want sensible comforts; needful watering shall not be withholden in the meantime, unless we, in our petted humor, will not be content with support and help, nor will bless him for it, and so provoke God to let us feel our own weight, that we may be humbled, and learn to gather our comforts among the midst of our crosses, and our mercies among our miseries, and pleasures among our pressures.
[4.] Has your time been a time of love, of God’s love to you? Then let all your time be a time of love to him. “O love the Lord, all ye his saints,” and let his love constrain you to his service; and for this end, maintain a deep sense and impression of his love to you. —Mind how ancient his love to you was, even prior to your being, from eternity; on the mere foresight of your sin and misery, his eyes affected his heart, and provided a cure before you got the wound. —Remember how free and generous his love is; how he loved you, not only when you was a stranger to him, a mean person, infinitely below him, a worthless person, having no good quality to recommend you, and endued with many odious qualities, but an enemy, a desperate rebel, mere grace only could draw out this love. —Recollect how unchangeable and everlasting it is, so as he will never cast you out of his affections, however deserving to be rejected; “He is God, and changes not, therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed.” He is still overcoming evil with good; as he enjoins us to do it, so he is always doing it himself. —Call to mind how distinguishing it is not only when he passed by angels that sinned, but many of your fellow-creatures. —Remember how very sympathizing it is, causing him who suffered for you on earth, to suffer with you in heaven; for, “In all your afflictions, he is afflicted.” —Mind how manifold it is; it is a love of desire after you; he desires fellowship with you and will never rest nor reckon himself a complete Christ, as to his mystical body, till you be with him together with the rest of his members mystical. —It is a love of delight, he takes pleasure in your company; “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, and in the secret places of the stairs, let me hear thy voice, let me see thy countenance; for, sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely. The Lord takes pleasure in his people.” —It is a love of beneficence, always doing good; and shall not love work love? O let your time be a time of love to him. You that expect an eternity of love, let it be evident to the world, that your time is a time of love.