The believer is oft complaining of darkness concerning his case and condition, so as he cannot tell what to say of himself, or what judgment to pass on himself, and he knoweth not how to win to a distinct and clear discovery of his state and condition. Now, it is truth alone, and the Truth, that can satisfy them as to this. The question then is, how they shall make use of, and apply themselves to this truth, to the end they may get the truth of their condition discovered to them. But first let us see what this case may be. Consider, then,
1. That grace may be in the soul, and yet not be seen nor observed. This is manifest by daily experience.
2. Not only so, but a gracious soul that is reconciled With God in Christ, and hath the spirit of grace dwelling in it, may suppose itself a stranger yet unto this reconciliation, and void of the grace of God, and so be still in the state of nature.
3. Yea, a soul may not only suppose and conclude itself in nature, while it is in a state of grace, but further, may be filled with terror and apprehensions of God's wrath and indignation; and that in such a measure, as that thereby it may be as a distracted person, as we see it was with Heman, Psalm lxxxviii. 15, who said, "while I suffer thy terror, I am distracted." The wrath of God lay hard upon him, and he said, that he was afflicted with all God's waves, ver. 7. Hence he cried out, vers. 16. 17, "thy fierce wrath goeth over me, thy terrors have cut me off, they came round about me daily," or all the day, "like water they compassed me about together." And yet for all this, the first word of his complaint was faith, ver. 1. Many such complaints hear we out of Job's mouth, to whom God, notwithstanding, was that gracious, that he never came to question his state before God, or to conclude his hypocrisy, or his being still in the state of nature. But it is not so with every one that is so exercised.
4. Yea, further, with those inward strokes upon the soul, they may have sin and guilt charged upon their consciences; and this will make their life yet more bitter, and put a sharper edge upon the rods. Thus was Job made to possess the sins of his youth, Job. xiii. 26, and made to say, "My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity," Job. xiv. 17.
5. Moreover, they may be in such a condition a long time, and all the while have no light of comfort, as we may see in Job and Heman. They may even walk in darkness, and have no light of comfort, Isa. 1. 10.
6. Yea, and also be without the hope of a delivery or outgate. Hence crieth Heman, Psalm lxxxviii. 4-5, "I am counted with them that go down into the pit, free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more, and they are cut off from thine hand." Yea, they may be driven to the very border of despair, and conclude that there is no hope, as the church did, Ezek. xxxvii. 11, "Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost, and we are cut off for our parts;" and as Job, chap. vii. 6, "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope;" and chap. xix. 10, "He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: mine hope hath been removed like a tree."
Now, though sometimes, as we see in Job, and in Heman too, a soul may be under such a sad and sharp dispensation, and yet not brought to question their state, or to conclude themselves children of wrath, lying still in black nature, yet it is not so with all who are so exercised; but many under such a dispensation, may at least be in the dark as to their state before God; and if they do not positively assert their state to be bad, yet they do much question if they be in the state of grace, and would be comforted under all their pressures and afflictions, if they could win to the least well-grounded apprehension of their interest in Christ.
In such a case as this is, there is ground for a poor soul to make use of Christ for outgate; and an outgate may be had in God's time, and as he seeth fit, by a right use-making of and going out to him, who is the Truth. So, then, the soul that would have its state and condition cleared up, and a discovery of its being reconciled to God through Jesus, and in a state of grace, and would make use of Christ as the Truth, for this end, would,
(1.) Look out to Christ, as a feeling High Priest, faithful and merciful, who, being like us in all things, except sin, doth sympathise with, and succour such as are tempted, Heb. ii. 17, 18. And as a Priest, "that is touched with the feeling of our infirmities," Heb. iv. 15. Albeit Christ, in the deepest of his darkness, was never made to question his Sonship, but avouched God to be his God even when he was forsaken, Psalm xxii. 1. Matt, xxvii. 46. Mark xv. 34. Yet he knew what it was to be tempted, to question his Sonship, when the devil said unto him, Matt. iv. 3, "If thou be the Son of God;" and he knows what such a distress as he himself was into, wrestling with an angry God, hiding himself and forsaking, will work in a poor sinner; and being a merciful and sympathising High Priest, he cannot but pity such as are under such a distemper, and, as a gracious Head, sympathise with them. Now, the believer would look out to him as such an one, and upon this ground go to him with confidence and boldness, and lay out their case before him, that he may help and send relief:
(2.) They would also eye Christ as able to save out of that condition, and to command light to shine out of darkness; and so, as one "able to save to the uttermost all that come to God through him," Heb. vii. 25.
(3.) And not only so, but eye him also as given, sent, and commissioned of the Father, to be a light to such as sit in darkness; even to the Gentile. Isa. xlii. 6, and xlix. 6. Luke ii. 32. Acts xiii. 47; xxvi. 23. John viii. 12; and this will encourage the poor souls to go out to him with their darkness, when they see that he is sent as a Light and as the Truth, to clear up poor souls that walk in darkness and have no light. When they see that it is his place and office to help them, and consider that he is true to his trust, and true and faithful in all that was committed to him, it not only will embolden them to come forward to him, but it will strengthen their hope, and encourage them to wait on.
(4.) They would stay themselves on him as an all-sufficient helper, renouncing all other, crying out, that they will have no light but his light, and that they will seek no where else for light, but wait at his door, till he, who is the Sun of Righteousness, shall arise in their soul, and come with healing light in his wings.
(5.) They would by faith roll and cast their darkened souls, their confused case, their overwhelmed hearts on him, and leave them there; for he is the only physician; and the blind soul must be put in his hand, who can take away the film, and cause the scales fall off, and make light break into the soul and discover unto it its condition.
(6.) It would be useful and very steadable, in such a time of darkness, for the believer to be frequent in acting direct acts of faith on Christ; that is, be frequent in going to him as an all-sufficient Mediator, as the only refuge and shadow for a poor, weary, scorched soul, Isa. iv. 6. "And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land," Isa. xxxii. 2; "as one who is a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat," &c. Isa. xxv, 4. When the soul is thus overwhelmed with clouds, and doubteth of its interest in Christ, it would then put it out of doubt, by flying to him for refuge from the storm of God's indignation, and lay hold on him as he is freely offered in the gospel, and thus renew its grips of him as the offered all-sufficient Mediator, and frequent direct acts of faith will help at length to a reflex act. The soul that is daily running to Christ, according to the covenant, with all its necessities, and laying hold on him as only able to help, will at length come to see that it hath believed on him, and is made welcome by him, and accepted through him. So that reiterated acts of faith on an offered cautioner and salvation, will dispel at length those clouds of darkness that trouble the soul.
7. Such souls would beware of making their bands stronger, and their darkness greater, by their folly and unwise carriage; for this cause they would beware,
(1.) To cry out in despondency of spirit as if there were no hope, and to conclude peremptorily, that they are cut off, and it is vain to wait any longer; for this course will but darken them the more, and multiply the clouds over their head.
(2.) To run away from Christ through unbelief and despair, for that will make their case yet worse.
(3.) To walk untenderly and not circumspectly; for the more sins appear, the less light will be had. O but souls would be tender in all their conversation at that time, and guard against the least sin or appearance of evil!
(4.) To fret and repine against God, because of that dispensation; for that will but entangle the soul more, and wreathe the yoke straiter about its neck, and put itself further out of case to be relieved and to receive light.
8. Such would do well not to limit the Holy One of Israel, but to wait with patience till his time come to speak in light to the soul, knowing that such as wait upon him shall never be ashamed, Isa. xlix. 23, because he waiteth to be gracious; and therefore blessed are all they that wait upon him, Isa. xxx. 18.
Quest. But what if for all this I get no outgate, but my distress and darkness rather grow upon my hand? Ans. That such a thing may be, I grant, the Lord thinking it fit. (1.) To exercise their faith, dependence, patience, hope, and desire more. (2.) And to discover more unto them their own weakness, faintings, faithfulness. (3.) To shew his absolute power and sovereignty. (4.) To make his grace and mercy more conspicuous and remarkable at length. And, (5.) to train them up in a way of dependence on him in the dark, and of leaning to him when walking in darkness, yea, and in a way of believing when they think they have no faith at all, and for other holy ends. Yet the soul would not despond, for there are several things that may serve to support and bear up the heart even in that case, as,
1. This is not their case alone, others have been in the like before, and many have had the like complaints in all ages, as is known to such as have been acquainted with exercised souls.
2. It may yield peace and comfort to know that they are about duty when looking to him, and depending upon him, and waiting for his light.
3. The promises made to such as wait for him may support the soul and yield comfort.
4. The distinct knowledge and uptaking of their condition, though it be comfortable and refreshing, yet it is not absolutely necessary. A soul may be a saved soul, though those clouds should continue to its dying day; and though, as long as they lived, they should never get a clear discovery of their gracious state, but spend their days in mourning, complaining, and crying out of darkness.
5. Such a soul should think that it is much that he is kept out of hell so long; and sure, the thoughts of what he is, and of what he deserveth, may make him sober, and not to think much, though he reach not so high as to see his name written in the book of life.
6. They should know that full assurance of hope and of faith is but rare: and even such as have it do not ordinarily keep it long; so that it should not much trouble them, if, after all their pains, they cannot win at it.
7. If they win to any real ground of hope, how small soever, they should think much of that; for many dear to Christ live long, and never know what so much is.
8. It is no small matter that they are not sinking in the gulf of inconsideration, and plagued with an indifferency in these matters, but are made to value Christ and an interest in him at such a rate.
9. Their going to Christ with all their wants, laying all on him, and their making that their daily exercise, may keep up their hearts from fainting, yea, and fill their souls with joy; for that is really the exercise of faith. And the great and gracious promises are made to such as believe, and not to such only as know they do believe. I grant such as know not that they do believe, cannot draw comfort from these promises; yet it is true that one may, by reflecting on the actings of his own soul, see and know that really he is going out to Christ, forsaking himself, casting his burden on him, waiting and depending upon him; when yet he will not say that he doth believe. And when he seeth this working of soul towards Christ, he is obliged to believe that he believeth, and thereupon rejoice in hope of the great promises. And however the very sight and knowledge of this acting and motion of soul may give them some comfort, though they shall not take it for faith, because it is the way of duty, and it is the thing the gospel calleth for, and because they cannot show an instance of anyone soul that did so, and perished. But the truth is, the right understanding of the nature of faith would clear many doubts, and prevent many questions.
I come to speak a little to the last case which I shall handle, which is,