SENSIBLE PRESENCE, SUDDEN ABSENCE; OR, THE BELIEVER’S
MOST COMFORTABLE INTERVIEWS, BUT OF SHORT DURATION.
This sermon was preached at Orwell, on Monday, August 5th 1734, after the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper there. In the first edition of this sermon, we are told, it was printed, not from the Author’s manuscript, but from the shorthand notes of one, who wrote it down in the time of the delivery. On this account, probably, it is neither so complete in itself, nor yet, perhaps, appears with such advangate as it would have done, had it been copied from the original.
“And God went up from him, in the place where he talked with him.” Genesis 35:13
I hope some, at this occasion (however few they may be) have had some access to God, and fellowship with Christ Jesus; yet such are to remember, and consider that it needs not be thought strange, though they should sensibly enjoy him, and loose him in a moment, as Jacob here; “He went up from him, in the place where he talked with him.” What intercourse was between God and Jacob, you have an account of; from the 9th verse; “And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram; and blessed him.” God met with him in this place, viz. Bethel, and blessed him, and he appears again to him. Those to whom God has once manifested himself may expect a new visit of him. At this time, there are two notable effects of the appearance God made unto him.
lst, God confirms the name he had formerly given unto him, calling him Israel. As God gives to all his people, to whom he savingly manifests himself, a new name; so he loves to call them by that new name.
2dly, He confirms the promise he had made unto him of his own name El-shaddai, the Almighty God; the God that, when he pleases, can give a being to his word, and will make his promise effectual in his own time and way. —There are two things God promises unto Jacob.
1. That he should be a father of many nations, and great kings; and a nation and company of nations should be of him, and kings should come out of his loins.
2. That he should be the possessor of a good land, viz. the land of Canaan. These two things had a spiritual signification; and we now, who live under the gospel-dispensation, if our eyes be open, may see the meaning of them, perhaps, better than Jacob could, under this typical representation; the promised seed, pointed at, was Christ himself the Great King of Zion, who was to come of Jacob; and the promised land pointed at, was Heaven itself, the heavenly kingdom. The former was the foundation, and this the top-stone of the building of mercy [Alluding to the action-sermon, preached on these words, Psalm 89:2, Mercy shall be built up forever.] that we were hearing of. Here then is the promise that God makes unto him, God, when he savingly manifests himself to his people, he comes to them as a promising God in Christ Jesus.
But then, in the words of the text, you have an account how this intercourse is interrupted, and marred at present, “God went up from him, in the place where he talked with him.” —Where we may observe two things. 1. How he left him. And 2. Where he left him.
1. How he left him, “God went up from him.” It was by some visible appearance, that had hovered over him, while God talked with him. God may go up from his people in sovereignty, when he does not go away from them in anger. However, we are carefully to observe, that it is not visible appearances of God that now we are to expect, God is a Spirit, and invisible; and as we are to worship him spiritually, so we are to see and enjoy him spiritually.
2. Observe where he left him; it was “in the place where he talked with him.” The name of the place is Bethel; and you see that Jacob here sets up a pillar, as a memorial of the communion he had with God there, and calls the name of the place, Bethel; he confirms the name formerly given to the place, when he had met with God there, he calls it Bethel, the house of God; it was even here, in this very place, the house of God, that he went up from him, where he talked with him.
The doctrine that I propose to speak a little unto is the following.
Doctrine: That they who have had communion and converse with God, may miss him in the very spot where they enjoyed him. “God went up from him, in the very place where he talked with him.”
Thus it was with the disciples at Emmaus, their eyes was opened, so as they knew him, “And he vanished out of their sight,” (Luke 24:31); or, as it is in the margin of some of your Bibles, “He ceased to be seen of them. They enjoyed his presence and yet instantly he ceased to be seen of them. Again, you may observe, the passage in the mount of transfiguration, where Peter says unto Jesus, “Lord it is good for us to be here;” and then it follows in the next verse, “While he yet spake, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them,” (Matt. 17:4-5). A cloud may quickly intervene between God and the soul that has communion and fellowship with him.
In handling this subject, I propose, as the Lord shall be pleased to assist, to observe the following method.
To touch a little at the communion his people may have with him, which is here called a talking with him.
Offer a few remarks concerning their missing and finding the Lord.
Enquire in what respects they may miss him where they enjoyed him.
I would give some reasons of this dispensation.
Make application of the whole.
1. As to the first of these, To speak a little of this communion that God’s people may have with him, which is here called a talking with him: “God went up from him, in the very place where he talked with him.”
This communion and converse with God may import these five things.
1. It imports the presence of God, and his perfections round about them; for, “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about them that fear him,” and so his perfections do surround and environ them. Indeed, we are to distinguish between sensible presence and real presence; God is always really present with his people; for he has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee;” but he is not always sensibly present. He may be present at their hand, when they do not see him, as in the case of Mary, when she was talking with Christ, and yet asked where she might find him. We are to distinguish also between his quickening presence and his comforting presence; the Lord may be present with his people quickening them to duty, and yet they may want sensible comfort in duty. To this purpose says the spouse, “I sought him, but I found him not.” I sought him; there is his quickening presence exciting her to duty: “But I found him not,” I wanted his sensible comforting presence.
It imports vicinity and nearness; the Lord is graciously near to them; he is graciously near to all that call upon him in truth, a present help, especially in the time of trouble, as here he was to Jacob in his trouble. —Again,
3. This converse they have with the Lord not only imports vicinity and nearness, but amity and friendship, as says the prophet, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). So I may say, can two talk together unless they be agreed? There is no sweet converse with God, but what imports agreement. It takes in, then, their friendship with him; their being reconciled to him in the blood of Jesus.
4. It imports communion with him, such as that “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ.” They have fellowship with God in Christ; fellowship with him in his life; because I live, ye shall live also; fellowship with him in his love, while he sheds abroad his love in their hearts. Again,
5. It imports communication; and this communication, or God’s talking with his people, it has many things in it.
(1.) There is therein, sometimes a mutual intimation of love; the Lord sometimes intimates his love unto the soul, saying, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love;” the soul sometimes intimates its love to him again, “Thou that knowest all things knowest that I love thee.”
(2.) It takes in sometimes a mutual commendation of one another; I say, mutual commendation; the Lord, when he is talking with them, he sometimes commends them forsooth, “Behold thou art fair; thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee:” and indeed they cannot but blush, when he commends them after this manner. Again, they commend him, (as it well becomes them), “My beloved is white and ruddy, the chief among ten thousand; his mouth is most sweet; yea, he is altogether lovely,” infinitely lovely. Again,
(3.) This communication has in it, sometimes, mutual counsels imparted, their minds imparted. The Lord imparts his mind to the soul, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant;” and the soul imparts its mind again to God, and pours out its hearts unto him, telling him his entire mind, that he cannot tell the world. Again,
(4.) This communication takes in the mutual confidence they express in one-another. It is wonderful that the Lord has a kind confidence and trust he puts in them: there are some believers he will not trust, knowing what is in their hearts; but there are others to whom he commits a trust, he commits his name and truth to them, (Rev. 2:13), knowing that, through his grace they will be faithful. They put their trust in him; Lord all my confidence is in thee; I have no hope but in thyself; and they express their trust in him, as Job does, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” (Job 13:15). Again,
(5.) This communication, it takes in the mutual care they express to one another: O the wonderful care that Christ expresses of his people. That is observed by the church, when she says, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me,” (Song 2:6). O the tender care of the Lord Jesus towards them! And then they sometimes express a care with reference to him and his interest, and his concerns; their great concern is, to have his honor and glory advanced in the world.
(6.) This communication sometimes takes in mutual assurances of love; he assures them of his love unto them: and relation unto them, “I am thy God, I will be thy God.” Well, they acknowledge sometimes this relation, and therefore cry out, “My Lord, and my God:” and sometimes, when they are under the influence of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of adoption, they acknowledge their relation, crying out Abba, Father.
In a word, this communication sometimes takes in a mutual dedication of themselves to one another; the Lord gives himself unto them; he gives himself, he gives his Christ, he gives his Spirit, he gives his blessing unto them, and they surrender all that they have and are unto him; they give up themselves, their name, their children, their soul and body, and all their concerns unto him; they put all into his hand. This is a part of their communication, their mutual talk with him. —So much shall suffice for a touch at this first head. I go on,
II. To the second thing proposed, viz. Too offer a remark or two concerning the finding and missing the presence of God. O sirs, what know we or do we know anything of that presence and fellowship with God, that I have been mentioning? That the Lord’s people may have some further view of this matter, there are those few remarks I would offer, concerning their meeting with him, and their missing of him.
The first remark I offer is this, “That these who are acquainted with his coming and going, they are the seed of Jacob, praying Jacob, to whom God has said, they shall not seek him in vain.” And sometimes they have it to say, “I sought him, and I found him;” but many times they have it to say, We sought him, but we missed him; “We sought him, but we found him not.” There is a generation that seek the face of Jacob’s God.
But, secondly, I would here remark, “That such an enjoyment of God’s presence, as his people desire, and would be at, is denied them while they are in the world.” And this he is pleased to do for many wise and good reasons: partly, to draw out their desires more after him; partly, to quicken their endeavors, in seeking after him; partly, to prove and humble them, and to do them good in the latter end.
But then, thirdly, another remark I would offer, is, “That the Lord’s communicating himself unto his people, is in a way that is very variable.” He many times surprises them with his visits. Sometimes he comes when they are in their worst case. He sometimes talks with them when they are napping, as it were; he takes them when they are dead, and like beasts before him. Sometimes when they are in their worst frames; “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me and was wroth; and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.” Well, saith the Lord, “I have seen his ways and will heal him; I will lead him also, and restore comforts to him, and to his mourners,” (Isa. 57:17-18). Sometimes he comes to them, when they are just at the giving over; “I said, I am cast out of thy sight,” said Jonah, “yet will I look again towards thy holy temple,” (Jonah 2:4). Sometimes their ordinary attainments do exceed their communion attainments; and thence they have it many times to say, O that it was with me at a communion table, as in such a time, and such a time. The Lord’s way is variable.
But again, in the fourth place, I would here remark, “That the Lord’s hiding himself, and the soul’s missing of his presence, when either they are seeking after him, and are disappointed; or, when they have found him, and do immediately miss him, I say, it is very heavy unto them.” Alas! it is a great burden to them! Usually, when they thus miss him, they are compassed with clouds of darkness. It may be they are in darkness about duty, not knowing what to do. Perhaps, they are in darkness about their graces, not knowing whether they are gold or counterfeits. It may happen, they are in the dark about the promises, not knowing whether they belong to them or not. It is possible, they are in darkness about their experiences, whether they be delusions or not. They are oft-times filled with amazement, when they miss their Beloved. When their love is away, they think such a dispensation is contrary to his merciful nature; they are apt to think sometimes, that it is contrary to his gracious promise, and that it is contrary to the experiences of his people, and perhaps contrary to their own experiences, and contrary to the hopes they have had. They are, I say, in great heaviness, for ordinary, when they miss him.
But again, a fifth remark I offer here is, “That when the Lord has been long away from his people, and at last returns to them readily, the meeting is very remarkable.” Their meeting with him then is readily remarkable for its fulness: it is like a great shower after a long drought; or, they get the more fall meal, that they have been long fasting; and the longer they have wanted access, the access is the nearer. Readily such a meeting is remarkable for the sweetness of it. O how sweet is it when the Lord’s people meet with him, when he hath been long absent It is like the lost piece of silver, (Luke 15:8-9). Here is a lost privilege I have found again; I thought the Lord would never have returned to me again, but now I have got him again. Such a meeting is remarkable for the melting quality of it: it is like the meeting of two dear friends, that have been long asunder, that fall a weeping for joy in one another’s arms. O the joy that a meeting between Christ and his people causes, after they have been long asunder! It readily also is remarkable for the power and efficacy of it. It has a powerful and strong impression on them, when they meet with him, after he has been long away. It is a Bethel that they will not easily forget: “I will remember thee,” says the Psalmist, “from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, and from the hill Mizar,” (Ps. 42:6).
But again, in the sixth place, I would here also remark, “That these meetings with the Lord are very rare.” They are not to be expected from the Lord often: they are feast days; and every day is not a feast day. They must come down from the mount; we must live here by faith, not by sight. The Lord’s people, many times, cannot bear a full cup, far less carry with it for a long time.
But again, seventhly, I would here remark, “That the Lord’s coming and going, His people’s meeting with him, and their missing of him, are remarkable and discernible, according to the degree of His coming and going.” Sometimes his coming unto them is more sudden and surprising; and then they readily know his coming. Sometimes it is more gradual, and less discernible; so it is also with his going. Sometimes he goes away more suddenly, and they miss him immediately; and sometimes he goes away gradually, and then they may not so easily know that he is gone; as it is said of Samson, “The Lord departed from him, and he wist it not:”
But then I would remark, in the eighth and last place, “That this dispensation of divine grace, his manifesting himself, and allowing his people access to him, and such communication with him, as it is a rare thing, so it is a great mystery.” It is even a mystery to them who know it; for they know but darkly: “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.” It is a hidden mystery to the most part of the professors: it is like the holy of holies, that none but the priests entered into: so none but these that are kings and priests unto their God, know anything of it.
Having offered these remarks concerning this his coming and going from his people, I go on,
III. To the third thing proposed, which was, To inquire in what respects they may miss him, where they enjoyed him: “God went up from him, in the place where he talked with him.” On this head, there are these eight particulars I would shortly touch at.
1. They may miss him in the duties wherein they have enjoyed him. They may miss him in the word wherein they have enjoyed him to their sweet experience: “I will remember thee,” says the Psalmist, “from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, and from the hill Mizar,” (Ps. 42:6). I will remember by-past experiences. But it seems, for all that, he missed him there; for he says in the next verse, “Deep calleth unto deep, at the noise of thy water spouts; all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” They may miss him in the duty of reading the Scriptures, wherein sometimes they have enjoyed him. It is sometimes the food of their souls; at other times it may be a sealed book to them. They may miss him in the duty of meditation, where sometimes they have enjoyed him: “My meditation of him shall be sweet,” says the Psalmist, (Ps. 104:34). But again, they may have it to say, “I remembered God, and was troubled.” They may miss him in the duty of prayer, wherein they have frequently enjoyed him, and got him in their arms; they may so miss him, as to be obliged to say, “Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? Wherefore hidest thou thyself from me? But again,
2. They may not only miss him in the duties wherein they have found him, but they may miss him in the frames wherein they have enjoyed him. They may miss him sometimes even in a mourning frame, and may go mourning without the sun. Mary seeks him weeping and mourning, and she misses her Lord, though she was in that frame. Again, they may miss him in a melting and a loving frame; so it was with the church, when she says, “I sought him whom my soul loveth, but I found him not.” They may miss him, even when in a right lively frame: “I sought him, (I was quickened to seek him), but I found him not.” They may miss that presence that sometimes they had, and that they would gladly be at. But again, in the next place,
3. They may miss him in the best cases wherein they have enjoyed him: they may miss him in that case they think to be best, and that case which is really best. They may miss him, when they think they are best, viz. in a joyful case; yet they may miss him, in regard of that measure and degree of presence they would be at. They may miss him in that case when it is really best with them. When is it best with them? It is best when they are believing and their heart is opening to the Son of God; and yet in that case they may miss him: the spouse says, “I opened to my Beloved; but my Beloved had withdrawn himself and was gone,” (Song 5:6). When they have much and sweet enjoyment of him, they may suddenly miss him; and when they are opening the door of their heart to him, he may disappear. But again, in the
4th place, They may miss him not only in the best cases, wherein they have enjoyed him; but they may miss him in the worst cases, wherein they have been prevented and surprised with the communications of his favor: for instance, they may miss him in confused times, when the enemies of the Lord are making a tumult, and when all things are seeming to run to disorder and confusion, though the Lord uses sometimes to refresh them in such circumstances, according to his word: “There is a river,” says the Psalmist “the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,” (Ps. 46:4). I remember it is said; “Keep not thou silence, O God; hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God; for lo, thine enemies make a tumult, and they that hate thee have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy bidden ones,” (Ps. 83:1); and at the same time it supposes, that the Lord is silent, was not taking notice as he used to do, and as they expected he would. Again, they may miss him in the time of persecution, when he uses to stand by his people, as Paul says, “The Lord stood by me; “even in such a time they may miss his presence, as the church says; “The watchmen, that went about the city, found me; they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me,” (Song. 5:7); there was persecution, and at the same time she is crying, and yet finds him not. Again, they may miss him in the time of temptation, when he uses to stand up in succouring them, making a way to escape; thus it was with Paul, he was buffeted by Satan: he prays and prays again, yet the temptation continues; and he misses him, until he goes on and finds him; and the answer the Lord gives him is, “My grace shall be sufficient for thee, and my strength shall be perfected in thy weakness.” However, I say, in the times of temptation they may miss him. Again, in times of tribulation and affliction, he uses to come to them, according to his word: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee,” (Isa. 43:2). Yet even when going through fire and water, they may miss him; as it was with Job, when, in great affliction, he cries unto the Lord, and he does not regard him: “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him,” (Job 23:89). O, say the Lord’s people, I would think nothing of my affliction, if the Lord did not hide his face: this is not a strange ease; you may miss him even then, as is evident from what I have said. —Again,
5. In the next place, the Lord’s people they may miss him, in the words of grace, wherein sometimes they have enjoyed him. The Lord manifests himself sometimes in the word, and gives them his presence by means of his word; and then they have it to say, perhaps, with the Psalmist, “The Lord hath spoken in his holiness, and I will rejoice,” (Ps. 60:6). But at other times, they may so far miss him that they may cry out, “All men are liars.” But how, sirs can believers make God a liar, but by making the prophets liars and the words of the prophets lies? “Will the Lord cast off for ever? And will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?” (Ps. 77:7-9). They may at some times meet with a promise, and rejoice therein; but at other times, that promise may be tasteless to their souls; they can see nothing of God there. I say, they may miss him sometimes in the words wherein they have enjoyed him. Again,
6. In the next place, they may miss him in the instruments whereby they have enjoyed him; it may be such a minister, and such an instrument, is blasted to them. He comes to them sometimes with full breasts, and they sweetly suck out of these full breasts of consolation; but behold, at other times, he comes to them with dry breasts, as it were; they can find nothing of God in his sermon, where they have formerly met with God by him. Why, sirs, we ministers are the savor of life, just as the Spirit of life is pleased to go along with the word; and therefore we have little need to idolize instruments. We may miss him in the instruments, whereby we have enjoyed him. Again, in the
7th place, We may miss him in the society of the Lord’s people, wherein we have enjoyed him. It is a commendable practice of some of the Lord’s people that they meet for social prayer and conference, and the Lord many times countenances them in it. It is said; “They that feared the Lord, spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard it: and a book of remembrance was written before him, for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name,” (Mal. 3:16). They sometimes meet with the Lord there; but at other times they may miss him very suddenly, and be obliged to say with the church: “When I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer,” (Lam. 3:8). And in the 44th verse, “Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud that our prayers should not pass through.” But again,
8. In the next place, to add no more, they may miss him in the very place where they have enjoyed him: “God went up from him, in the very place where he talked with him.” I say, they may miss him in the very times and places where they have enjoyed him; and they may enjoy him, but suddenly the Lord may withdraw from them. They may miss him in the public places, the ordinances where they have enjoyed him; they may miss him in secret places, in the chamber, in the field, in the spot where they enjoyed him; “God went up from him, in the place where he talked with him.” So much shall suffice for the third head.
IV. The fourth thing I proposed was, To give the grounds and reasons of this dispensation: Whence is it that the Lord’s people may enjoy God, and yet may quickly miss him, even in the very spot where they have enjoyed? I cannot stand to enlarge upon this; I shall offer some reasons in so many words.
1. By this the Lord shows his sovereignty, that he is the sovereign dispenser of his blessings, and confers them when, upon whom, and in what manner, he pleases.
2. The Lord by this would also confirm his people unto their Head, Jesus Christ, who was deserted of the Father, “My God, my God,” says he, “why hast thou forsaken me?” Alas! this was a bitter cup, yet the Lord will have his people to be plunged in it, so to speak, to know the bitterness of that cup of desertion.
3. It is ordered also, to make a difference between heaven and earth. We are but strangers and pilgrims here; and are not to expect an uninterrupted enjoyment of our Lord in this world. There is an eternity of the enjoyment of God a-coming, unto all the children of grace; and therefore he takes the liberty with his people now, to hide himself from them. Again,
4. It is ordered also, for showing unto us that the Lord may approve of his people, and accept of their services and duties in Jesus Christ, even when they miss that in duty which they would be at, namely, his blessing of them with his comfortable presence; this is what he will give unto them as he pleases.
5. He would have them to know they are not to rest on the means; that they are not to be depended upon, but that they are to use the means, with a respect to his command, and a regard to his authority, even though the Lord should deny his comfortable presence therein. The Lord orders it also, it may be,
6. To chastise their former misbehaviors, either in seeking, or in the enjoyment of him: he will learn to value his presence, by absenting himself from them.
7. Many times he does it, to quicken their endeavors after him, and to lead them unto the due acknowledgment of their sins, by which they have provoked him to depart and hide his face; as the Lord says by his prophet, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction, they will seek me early.” Many such reasons might be given, why the Lord orders matters thus.
8. I shall give you one reason more (and, sirs, we may tremble when we speak of it); the Lord may hide his face, in many of the duties of his appointment, to show his displeasure against his church and people; and to show what vengeance may be a-coming upon them, because of their sins and provocations; and the Lord may withdraw from his own people, and hide his face from them, because of their sinful accession to the evils of the time and place wherein they live. Ah! what strokes may be a-coming upon a sinful generation! And also, for this reason, he may hide his face from his people, that it may not be in their power to stand up in the gap, to hinder the stroke to come on; and therefore he hides his face, and hardly allows them to pray. What is the language of it? It is to this effect, “Pray not for this people,” when I am peremptorily resolved to bring down vengeance upon them; therefore he withholds the Sprit of prayer. And he sometimes withdraws with reference to this very point, that they have not so much as the assurance of the delay of a stroke, because he is quickly to bring it on: and, perhaps, this may be one great complaint of the Lord’s people, and of some that go many a foot to his ordinances; Oh the little communion they meet with in them! It may be, the Lord is reserving the comforts of communion till the time of a wilderness want shall come: “Behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness,” saith the Lord, by the prophet, “and speak comfortably to her,” (Hosea 2:14).
V. I come now, in the last place, to make application of the whole. I shall confine my Application to these two uses: 1. By way of trial and Examination. And, 2. By way of Exhortation.
1st, Is it so, that the Lord, when he allows communion and fellowship with him to his people, may suddenly withdraw, and they may miss him in the spot where they have enjoyed him? Then, O sirs, you should try what you know of his presence, and of communion and fellowship with him, It were the less hazard that you knew, to your experience, that of missing him, if ye really knew, what it were to find him, and what it is to enjoy him, and to have communion with him. Why, sirs, I would have you put it to the trial, if God has been talking with you at this occasion, or at any other time. Do you know what it is to have God talking with you: I mean, to have communion and fellowship with him? You cannot expect to have the enjoyment of glory hereafter, if it be not begun in grace here. Why, how shall we know, say you, if we have met with the Lord? Or attained anything of the enjoyment of him? Why, in the
1. Place, you may try it by this, There are some things you will be hardly able to endure, if you have met with him. The Lord’s people they cannot endure that God go away from them again; or that God should hide his face. Oh! it is heavy to think of the Lord’s withdrawing from them: they cannot endure to think that God should be angry with them: they cannot endure that anything should have Christ’s room in their hearts: they cannot endure that anything should hinder or mar that meeting with, and enjoyment of God they have: they say with the Psalmist, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for I will keep the commandments of my God.” What will all the world be to me, says the soul, If I have not communion and fellowship with my God? Again, the soul cannot endure anything that tends to mar the enjoyment of God; when he has it, when he is brought into the banqueting-house, and has the light of God’s countenance, he is ready to charge all about him, with the spouse, that they do not provoke the Lord to depart: “I charge you,” says she, “O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love till he please,” (Song. 2:7). What know ye of this? Again,
2. If ye know his gracious presence, you will be one that rejoices in his presence, and laments at his absence. His presence will be your chief joy; his absence will be your chief sorrow: his presence will give you more joy than all the world can: his absence will make you more sorrowful, than anything in time can make you joyful. This is the import of that word, “Thou hast put,” says the Psalmist, “gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased,” (Ps. 4:7). Again, if you be one that has had a meeting with the Lord, then, to be sure, his absence will be a distressing thing to you. As you desire his presence above all things, and count all things but loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and communion with God in him; so, when you cannot win at the enjoyment of him, when you cannot get your heart brought up to love him, when you cannot get your eyes open to see him, you look upon yourself as a distressed person, as a broken person, as a miserable person, by reason of the absence of God and the presence of Sin. A child of God looks upon himself to be, and is really, an afflicted and a broken body, by reason of the presence of sin, and the absence of the Lord; and therefore he cries out, “O that I knew where I might find him!” But again,
3. If you are one that have experience of this presence of God, and fellowship with him; then you will have some fellowship with the saints, the excellent ones of the earth. What know you of this? I think this is a good sign, when the heart warms towards one that is a child of grace, though he be a beggar, or in poor circumstances, or one of little wit otherwise; when your heart warms towards the picture of Christ, when your heart warms towards one, because he has the image of Christ; “By this we know,” says the apostle John, that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren,” (1 John 3:1, 4). The heart-warming towards these that have the image of God, it has in it something of heart-warming towards Christ himself. Again,
4. We may know it by the humbling effect of it. When a person has the image of God on him, he will be humbled; thus Job, when he had got a clear sight of himself, says to the Lord, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” (Job 42:5-6). O the presence of God makes the person hate sin; it humbles him to nothing, as the Lord says by the prophet, “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of man shall be bowed down,” (Isa. 2:11), when the Lord alone is exalted in the soul, when he is present on the throne of the heart. Again,
5. We may judge of it by this, they that have met with God and have his presence, whether they have it sensibly or not, they have still an high esteem of Christ, even though he should be absent. They have also an high esteem of his ordinances, even when but dry breasts; they dare not undervalue them; nay, they have a great regard for everything that appertains to him, and bears an impression of his image.
6. They have something also of a tenderness of heart, that they dare not allow themselves in sin; they dare not live in the omission of known duty, or in the commission of known sin; and they have something also of a tenderness of walk; though iniquities prevail against them, yet they never dare run into an excess of riot with the wicked world. They are such as fear the Lord; or have the character given them that we find recorded in the first chapter of Nehemiah, (v. 11), they desire to fear his name. You may inquire by what I have been saying, whether you know the presence of God, and fellowship with him.
I thought to have spoke by way of address, 1. To these who have known fellowship with him, but now they have missed him. 2. To these who at present may be under the joyful impressions of their having fellowship with God, so that he is talking with them. And, 3, To these that know nothing of this intercourse with God, and as little care for it. I would say but a few words to each of these.
1st. As to these who found the Lord talking with them, and who have had some intercourse with him allowed them; but now they have missed him, and it may be, have provoked him to hide his face. All I would say to you is, to offer you these two or three advices.
1. I would have you to study divine providences towards yourself, and the providence of the Lord towards others of his people in his coming and going towards them. Eye the sovereignty of his dispensations. Why it may be, in this study, you may meet with him; “whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord,” (Ps. 107:43).
2. I would advise you, in these circumstances that you are in, if you would have your captivity returned, be concerned on your knees before the Lord, about your friends, and others you should be concerned for, it is remarkable; “The Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he was praying for his friends,” (Job 42:10): when you are applying for your friends or others, you may find the Lord turning your captivity.
3. I would advise you to be concerned for the church of Christ. It may, perhaps, be one cause of the Lord’s withdrawing from you, in your private case, on account of your having little concern about the church of Christ. You will find, that when Daniel was applying to God for his church and people, then he met with that intercourse with God, wherein he spake unto him, saying, “O man greatly beloved:” and, says the Lord to Baruch, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not: for behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey, in all places whither thou goest,” (Jer. 45:5). Well, be concerned for the public; and in this way you may come to meet with the Lord again. But, then again,
4. Another thing I would advise you to, is, endeavor, through grace, to be concerned for, and weighted with, the sins of the day and generation you live in: by this you may get a mark set upon you: for, he sets a mark upon the foreheads of them that sigh and cry, for all the abominations that be done in the midst of the city. But then, again,
5. Believer, see that he have you alone, if you be complaining that you miss him in ordinances. I remember what was said concerning Christ and his disciples, “When they were alone he expounded all things to his disciples,” (Mark 4:34). See that he have you alone, and see that you be much in secret with him; and thus the Lord may communicate himself to you. He will not readily tell you his mind until he get a convenient time; you may get that in secret, that you have not got at a communion-table. Again,
6. I would have you to beware of conformity to the generality of professors in our day. O beware of being conformed to them in their neutrality and indifference about the work of God; and bringing their neutrality this way under the good names of moderation, good breeding, and the like: beware of conformity to these; for it is your reproach to be conformed to them in their selfishness, while most part seek their own things, and few the things of Jesus Christ; and in this way you cannot expect to meet with Christ. —In a word, Do you yet miss him; Wait on him; “The Lord is a God of judgment, and blessed are all they that wait for him.”
2dly, But I would now speak a word to these who have found the Lord at this occasion, so that he is talking with them. It is possible there are some that have the joyful impressions of communion with God, and with Jacob, are talking with God, and God is talking with them. Are you brought into the mount of communion and conversation with him? Then I would give you two or three advices.
1. O believer, if that be thy case, O be thankful, let God have the praise of his mercy; remember to adore and stir up others to adore and magnify him. You are dignified before many others that are in many respects better than you; what are you that you should be so dealt with? Again,
2. O beware of idolizing your entertainment: when you are enjoying these fruits of the Master’s kindness, beware of resting upon the fruits; for they will not bear you; but you must rest upon the Tree of life; beware of making a Christ of them: beware of being strong in the grace received; but be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Again,
3. I would advise you to entertain Christ well, when he is with you; and beware of provoking him to depart from you. There are several things we should beware of, that provoke him to depart. He may go away in sovereignty, and it is best when he does so, and you have not a sinful hand in it. Beware of unbelief: this is readily the first door, by which your comforts will go out from you.—Beware of doubting of his love, and disputing of the mercy of God. Do you enjoy his love? Are you sure concerning it, as having an infallible mark of it in his word? Then take instruments, that it is no delusion; that so when the Lord hides his face, you may not raise the foundation calling all in question.—Again, beware of security and sleeping after you have got a good meal. If a friend should come and pay you a visit, and you should fall asleep beside him, he will think that you make very little of his visit, and he will soon make away from you. —And then I would have you beware of covetousness and worldly-mindedness; “For the iniquity of his covetousness I was wroth, and smote him; I hid me and was wroth,” says the Lord, by the prophet, (Isa. 57:17). There you see both anger and absence, by reason of a covetous heart, a worldly heart, and worldly-mindedness; I say, beware of this. —Again, I would advise you to beware of defiling the Lord’s house; keep the house, where he is clean, so as he may not be provoked to depart. Keep the house clean for him, endeavor, through his grace, to keep the heart clean, to keep it clean from secret sin; “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults,” says the Psalmist, (Ps. 19:12). Endeavor to be clean, not only from secret faults, but public faults and sins in the day and generation wherein you live. The neglect of this may greatly provoke him, to withdraw his presence from you. Endeavor to be faithful to his truths that are controverted. Some will be ready to say, Why, should we be concerned for controverted truths? If, indeed, we do not stand up for any but these which are uncontroverted, the devil and his instruments will not trouble us; but if we do not so, we cannot be faithful to God. And we are to be faithful to the least truth of Christ. Some may be ready to say, “If, for the cause of truth, we are to suffer, why not? But many are contending about these things that are trifles.” O sirs, If they be the matters of Christ, beware of calling them trifles. I remember to have read of a lady in France, at the time of the massacre there, that was led away to be drowned for the sake of her religion; her persecutors promised her life, if she would but say, Ave Maria, or Pater Noster. She answered, “I might easily repeat these words: but if my doing so, be interpreted by you a renouncing of my religion, and a yielding up of the cause of Christ, in that sense I will not do it;” and so she was drowned. If we come to yield in smaller things, we may do it in greater! We are to reckon nothing small in the matters of Christ. Then,
4. See that you improve his presence, if you have got it at this occasion. How shall we improve it in the behalf of Christ, to commend him more to you than ever: and sure, if you have his presence you cannot say too much of it; O improve it for the commending him more and more to you. —Improve it in behalf of his ordinances making them more precious in your view. And improve this presence of the Lord in behalf of your children: Have you children, man, woman? Improve it in behalf of them, and cry to God, wrestle with him for a blessing to you and your seed, seeing he has brought you near. Improve it in behalf of the Church of Scotland: plead that he may not take a farewell of Scotland; that he may return to his ordinances; that he may return to the judicatories. O improve your enjoyment of the presence of Christ, in behalf of the churches abroad, that are brought very low. O improve his presence in behalf of your friends in Christ, these that are in Christ, that have not win your length, that have not win half your length. Are you brought into the King’s court? O speak a good word for the Josephs that are in prison, that are under the hatches, that the Lord may advance them as well as you. Then improve his presence in behalf of strangers, who never saw anything of his glory, as we find the church in the Song does; “We have a little sister,” (Song 8:8), says she, “and she hath no breasts; what shall we do for our sister, in the day when she shall be spoken for? If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver; and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.” We should pray for a blessing upon the design of preaching the gospel unto a Pagan and a Heathen world; we wish that you would mind them that are called to preach the gospel to the heathens. O pray that the Lord may be with them. Then remember the advice that Joseph gave to Pharoah, “Lay up for the years of famine;” lay up comforting promises and experiences; you may need all that you have got; yea, you may need much more.
3dly, I shall only speak a word to you that know nothing of this presence of God, of his coming and going; that know nothing of finding or missing him; and, perhaps, as little care. You never had any concern about his presence; for you are strangers to fellowship and communion with the Son of God. O man, woman, I would say a word to you; O hear what God says to you, before he go away from the place where he is speaking to you; he is speaking to you in this everlasting gospel. We are not to stay here, but we are to part: and we will probably never meet all again, until we come before the tribunal of God, when the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before God go away, who is talking to you in this gospel, come to Christ, who is dealing with you and speaking to you. Consider, that if these messages of grace, that you have got already at this occasion, be all slighted by you, there are more terrible ones abiding you than ever came to Job, and they were right fearful ones; there came one to him and told him, “The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain thy servants with the edge of the sword, and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” That man is hardly done speaking, when another comes and tells him, “The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burnt up the sheep, and servants, and consumed them; and I am escaped alone to tell thee.” While that man is speaking, another comes in and tells him, “The Chaldean made out three bands, and fell upon your camels, and have carried them away; yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” While that man is speaking, another comes in and tells him, “Your sons and daughters were eating, and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are all dead and gone; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee,” (Job 1:14, 19). These are heavy messages; but they are nothing in comparison of the heavy messages that, a few days hence, it may be a few moments for ought you know, at death, is abiding you. One message will be That you must part with all your dear and near relations you have had upon the earth, and you must part with them forever. Upon the back of this message another comes, Man, you must part with all your enjoyments of time; you must part with all profits, pleasures, or honors. Ere that message is given, another comes, Man, you must part with your soul; however near the relation was between your soul and your body, yet your body must go down to the dust, and your soul to God who gave it; yea, a sadder message comes yet, Man, you must part with the presence of God, and you must be sent to hell and there punished with everlasting destruction, and be banished forever, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, (2 Thess. 1:9). Why, poor Christless man, you must lay your account with this message; unless you could make yourself immortal; this will infallibly come upon you. This will be the message of death.
And there is a fourfold woe that will come upon you, if you continue in this natural state.
1. Woe unto you, for you are certainly miserable: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God,” (Ps. 9:17).
2. Woe unto you, for you shall be suddenly miserable: when you are saying, Peace, peace, to yourselves, then sudden destruction shall come upon you, as travail upon a woman with child, and you shall not escape, (1 Thess. 5:3).
3. Woe unto you, for you shall be doubly miserable; you are not only despisers of God’s law, but despisers of the gospel; therefore your damnation shall be double. Then,
4. Woe will be unto you, for you shall be eternally miserable; as long as God lives, you shall live in Tophet; and when you have lived in it as many thousands of years, as there are piles of grass on the earth; and when these are expired, and you have lived as many thousands of years in it, as there are pickles of sand on the sea shores; and when these are also expired, and you have lived in it as many thousands of years as there are stars in the firmament: and when these are also done, and you have lived in it as many thousands of years, as there shall be moments from the beginning to the end of the world; and when you have counted numbers until they come to be innumerable, one of your great miseries will be, that it is eternal; for time is gone, and there is nothing but eternity remains.
O consider thy dreadful case that hast no concern about the messages of the gospel, that hast not been affected with it to this day: I would have you to consider this, that Christ is yet in your offer, before we go from the place we are in; he is yet in the place. I would give you another offer, and if you do not accept thereof, it will make you the more inexcusable. What should hinder your acceptance, but your unbelief? Has he not condescended to be a Saviour to you? Yea, for he is exhibited as the Saviour of the world. He is as much your Saviour, as a physician of an army is so to the whole army, whether they employ him or not. You have a right to close with him; ye despise your own mercy if you reject him. O sirs! has he come in your nature, and will you not come to him? Has he become sin for you, and will you not come to him? Has he become a curse for you, and will you not come to him? Has he come at this occasion to you, and will you not come to him? Has he not said, “To you is the word of this salvation sent,” man, woman, every individual of you? Has he come and declared, upon his veracity, that “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no-wise cast out?” O sirs! why then will you not come to him? If thou wilt not let him in at the door of thy heart, thou must answer for it at the great day; “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder; wonder and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no-wise believe, though a man declare it unto you,” (Acts 13:41).
It may be you have been wondering at all these offers of Christ, and at all these sermons and sacraments; if you will not wonder and be saved, you must wonder and be damned; “Behold, ye despisers, wonder and perish.” What is it, man that is the matter with you? What is thy case? Art thou not fully warranted to come to this Jesus? What sort of sinner art thou? Art thou destitute of knowledge? Why, he comes to be wisdom unto thee. Art thou guilty? He comes to be righteousness unto thee. Art thou a polluted sinner? He comes and offers himself to be sanctification unto thee. Art thou a miserable sinner? He comes to be redemption unto thee. Art thou lying among the unclean pots of hell? He comes to thee, to make thee as the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold. Art thou a backslider, He says unto thee, “Come unto me, and I will heal thy backslidings, I will love thee freely; for mine anger is turned away from thee. What sort of a sinner art thou? If you be upon the face of the earth, you have a right to accept of the offer of Christ made to you in the gospel; “Look unto me, saith the Lord, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else,” (Isa. 45:22). O that the power of divine grace may draw you! Are you destitute of all grace? Christ comes to you with the offer of his grace in his hand; who is full of all that grace and truth you stand in need of. Are you unable, and saying you cannot come to him? Why, that need be no hindrance: you cannot come to God but by Jesus Christ; and not only as he is the Way to God, but as the Leader, the mighty God, on whom God has laid thy help; and he says, Will you be helped out of that horrible pit and miry clay you have fallen into? O! will you take the Mediator’s help? Sirs, go alone whenever you have time and plead that the Spirit of the Lord may back the word to you, for without this, it will all fall to the ground.
I shall only speak a word (and close with it) to the Lord’s people. Perhaps your hearts have been touched, and you have seen something of the Lord’s glory in his sanctuary. O improve what you have got for strengthening you: remember what is said of Jacob, after he got a view of God at Bethel, it is said, “He went on his way;” it is in the original, “He lifted up his feet.” He was, as it were, dragging his feet before, but then he went on his way, and walked without wearying. O improve anything you have got at this occasion for exciting you to run your Christian race, and for fighting your Christian battles. Go forth in the name and strength of the Lord, depending and leaning upon your Beloved. “Walk in the fear of the Lord,” and so you shall also walk in the comforts of the Holy Ghost, as it is said, (Acts 9:31). If you walk under the influence of the Spirit as a sanctifier, you shall walk under his influence as a Comforter.
May the Lord back his own word with his own blessing; and to his name be the praise.