There is another evil and distemper which believers are subject to, and that is a case of fainting through manifold discouragements, which make them so heartless that they can do nothing; yea, and to sit up, as if they were dead. The question then is, how such a soul shall make use of Christ as in the end it may be freed from that fit of fainting, and win over those discouragements: for satisfaction to which we shall,
1. Name some of those discouragements which occasion this.
2. Show what Christ hath done to remove all those discouragements.
3. Show how the soul should make use of Christ for life in this case; and,
4. Add a few words of caution.
As to the first, there are several things which may give occasion to this distemper; we shall name those few:
1. The sense of a strong, active, lively, and continually stirring body of death, and that notwithstanding of means used to bear it down and kill it. This is very discouraging; for it made Paul cry out, "Woe is me, miserable man, who shall deliver me from this body of death?" Rom. vii. 24. It is a most discouraging thing to be still fighting, and yet getting no ease, let be victory; to have to do with an enemy that abides always alike strong, fight and oppose as we will, yea, not only is not weakened, far less overcome, but that groweth in power, and prevaileth. And this many times affecteth the hearts of God's children and causeth them to faint.
2. It may be the case of some, that they are assaulted with strange temptations and buffettings of Satan that are not usual. This made Paul cry out thrice, 2 Cor. xii.; and if the Lord had not told him that his grace was sufficient for him, what would he have done? Hence some of his cry out in their complaint, was there ever any so tempted, so assaulted with the devil, as I am? Sure this dispensation cannot but be much afflicting, saddening and discouraging.
3. The sense of the real weakness of grace under lively means, and notwithstanding of their serious and earnest desires and endeavours after growth in grace, cannot but disquiet and discourage them: for they may readily conclude, that all their pains and labour shall be in vain for any thing they can observe.
4. The want of sensible incomes of joy and comfort is another fainting and discouraging dispensation; as the feeling of these is a heart-strengthening and most encouraging thing, which made David so earnestly cry for it, Psal. li. 8, 12; when a poor soul that hath the testimony of his own conscience, that it hath been in some measure of singleness of heart and honestly seeking the face of God for a good many years, and yet cannot say that ever it knew what those incomes of joy and comfort meant which some have tasted largely of, it cannot choose but be discouraged and much cast down, as not knowing what to say of itself, or how to judge of its own case.
5. The want of access in their addresses to God, is another heart-discouraging thing. They go about the duty of prayer with that measure of earnestness and uprightness of heart that they can win at, at least this is their aim and endeavour, and yet they meet with a fast closed door, when they cry and shout; he shutteth out their prayer, as the church complaineth, Lam. iii. 8. This sure will affect them deeply, and cause their hearts sometimes to faint.
6. The want of freedom and liberty in their addresses to God is another thing which causeth sorrow and fainting. They go to pray, but their tongue cleaveth to the roof of their mouth: they are straitened and cannot get their hearts vented.
7. Outward persecution that attendeth the way of godliness, and afflictions that accompany such as live godly, is another discouraging thing, both to themselves who are under afflictions, and to others who hear it and see it; wherefore the apostle desireth earnestly that the Ephesians should not faint at his tribulation, chap. iii. 13.
8. The Lord's sharp and sore dispensations for sin, as towards David, Psal. li., or out of his sovereignty, for trial and other ends, as towards Job, is likewise a discouraging, heart-breaking thing, and that which will make strong giants to roar and faint, and look upon themselves as dead men, as we see in these two eminent men of God.
As to the second thing, Christ is life to the believer in this case, in having done that which in reason may support under all these discouragements, and having done so much for removing or weakening of these; yea, and for carrying them over all, which may be in a word cleared as to each.
1. As for the body of death, let it stir in the believer as fast as it will or can, it is already killed, and all that struggling is but like the struggling of a man in the pangs of death; for our "old man is crucified with Christ," Rom. vi. 6; and the believer is dead to sin and risen legally with him, Col. ii. 11, 12; iii. 3. But of this I spoke abundantly above.
2. As to Satan's troubling the poor believer, through Christ also he is a vanquished enemy: "He hath overcome him that had the power of death, even the devil," Heb. ii. 14.
3. As for that felt weakness of grace, that is no ground of discouragement, so long as he liveth who can make the lame to leap as an hart, and can make waters break out in the wilderness, and streams in the desert, Isa xxxv. 6, 7; "and giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might increaseth strength; so that such as wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, and they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint," Isa. xl. 29, 31. For "in him are all the promises yea and amen," 2 Cor. i. 20. So that they need not faint upon this account, nor be discouraged: for the work he hath begun he will finish it, and he will quicken in the way, Psal. cxix. 37.
4. As for the want of sensible incomes of joy and comfort, he hath promised to send the Comforter, in his own good time, John xiv. 26; xv. 26. "As one whom his Father comforteth, so will he comfort his," Isa. lxvi. 13. Joy and gladness is promised in the covenant, Jer. xxxi. 13. But further, though he keep up these influences of joy and comfort, he supporteth another way. The lively hope of heaven may bear up the heart under all this want: for there shall the soul have fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore: no tears, no sorrow there, Psal. xvi. 11. Isa. xxxv. 10.
5. As for the want of access in their prayers, they may possibly blame themselves, for he has by his merits opened the door; and is become (to speak so) master-usher to the poor soul, to lead him unto the Father, so that "by him we have access," Eph. ii. 18, "yea, boldness and access through faith in him," Eph. iii. 12; "and he is our advocate," 1 John ii. 1; and, as our attorney, is gone to heaven before us; "and there liveth for ever to make intercession," Heb. vi. 28; vii. 25. And what is there more to be done to procure us access; or to move and encourage us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need?" Heb. iv. 14, 16.
6. As to that want of freedom and liberty in prayer; he helpeth that also: For he maketh the dumb to sing, Isa. xxxv. 6, and maketh the tongue of the stammerer to speak elegantly, Isa. xxxii. 4. He can enlarge the heart, and help the soul to pour out his heart before God.
7. As to outward persecution, he can easily take that discouragement away, by giving the hundred-fold with it; by supporting under it, and bringing safe through it. When his presence is with them through fire and water, Isa. xliii. 2, what can trouble them? And when he maketh their consolations abound, 2 Cor. i. 5, what can discourage them? Have not his sung in the very fires; and rejoiced in all their afflictions? The resting of the Spirit of God and of glory, which Peter speaketh of, 1 Pet. iv. 14, is comfortable enough.
8. As for all those sharp dispensations mentioned in the last place, he having taken the sting of all, even of death away, by taking away sin, and purchased the blessing and love of the Father, having made reconciliation through his blood, all those dispensations flow from love, even such as seem sharpest, being inflicted for sin, as we see, Heb. xii. 6; so that there is no cause here of fainting or of being so discouraged as to give over the matter. But for help in this case, there should be a use-making of Jesus, as the Life; and that is
The third thing which we shall speak a little to, viz. How the soul should make use of Christ as the Life, to the end it may be delivered from this fainting occasioned through manifold discouragements.
1. The believer in this case would mind the covenant of redemption, wherein Christ hath promised and so standeth obliged and engaged to carry on his own through all discouragements to the end; so that if any one believer miscarry, Christ loseth more than they lose: for the believer can but lose his soul, but Christ shall lose his glory; and this is more worth than all the souls that ever were created. And, further, not only shall Christ lose his glory as Redeemer, but the Father shall lose his glory in not making good his promise to Christ his Son. For by the same covenant he standeth engaged to carry through the seed that Christ had died for. And his appointing Christ to be his servant for this end, and choosing him from among all the folk, and his upholding of him, concurring with him, delighting in him, and promising that he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles, and that to victory, or to truth, speak out his engagement to see all true believers brought home. See Isa. xlii. 1-4. Matt. xii. 17-21. Psalm lxxxix. 19-21, 28, 29, 35-37. Sure the faith of this would support the poor believer under all those discouragements.
2. They would mind likewise the covenant of grace, wherein all things are contrived and laid down, so far as that the believer may have abundant consolation and comfort in all cases; and wherein there is enough to take away all cause of fainting and discouragement; as might fully be made to appear, if any did question it.
3. They would remember how richly Christ is furnished with all qualifications; suiting even that case wherein they are like to be overwhelmed with discouragements; and could the believer but think upon and believe those three things, he might be kept up under all discouragements: (1.) That Christ is a compassionate, tender-hearted Mediator, having bowels more tender than the bowels of any mother; so that "he will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax," Isa. xl. 2. He had compassion on the very bodies of the multitude that followed him; and would not let them go away fasting, lest they should faint in the way, Matt. xv. 32. Mark viii. 3; and will he not have compassion on the souls of his followers, when like to faint through spiritual discouragements? (2.) That he hath power and authority to command all things that can serve to carry on a poor believer; for all power in heaven and in earth is given unto him; all things are made subject to him. (3.) That he hath a great readiness and willingness upon many accounts to help his followers in their necessities. Sure, were these three firmly believed, the believer could not faint, having Christ, who is tender and loving, and willing to help, and withal able to do what he will, to look to and to run to for supply.
4. They would take up Christ under all his heart-strengthening and soul-comforting relations, as a tender brother, a careful shepherd, a fellow-feeling high priest, a loving husband, a sympathizing head, a life-communicating root, an all-sufficient king, &c., any of which is enough to bear up the head, and comfort the heart of a drooping, discouraged, and fainting soul. Much more may all of them yield strong consolation to support and revive a soul staggering and fainting through discouragement. Oh! if ye would but rightly improve and dwell upon the thoughts of the comforting and heart-quickening relations! our hearts would not fail us so much as they do.
5. They would eye him as now in glory, who as head and captain of salvation hath wrestled through and overcome all difficulties and discouragements that were in his way, and in name and behalf of all believers that are his followers and members of his body, is now possessed of glory, and thence draw an heart-comforting, and soul-strengthening conclusion, thus, Is he entered into glory as head? then such a poor, faint-hearted, discouraged worm as I am, may at length come there as a little bit of his body, especially since he said, that seeing he liveth, all his shall live also, John xiv. 19.
6. They would remember how Christ, who was always heard of his Father, John xi. 41, did supplicate for this, as Mediator and Intercessor for his people, John xvii. 24, saying, "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am," &c. May not the poor faint-hearted believer that is looking to Jesus, draw an heart-reviving, and soul-encouraging conclusion out of this, and say, though my prayers be shut out, and when I cry for relief under my discouragements, I get no hearing; but, on the contrary, my discouragements grow, and my heart fainteth the more; yet Christ always was heard, and the Father will not say him nay; why then may not I lift up my head in hope, and sing in the hope of the glory of God, in the midst of all my discouragements?
7. By faith they would cast all their discouragements, entanglements, and difficulties, as burdens too heavy for their back, on Christ, and leave them there with him who only can remove them; and withal, resolve never to give over, but to go forward in his strength, and thus become daily stronger and stronger in resolutions, purposes, desires, and endeavours, when they can do no more.
8. They would look to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, and set him before them as a copy of courage, "who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame," and endureth contradiction of sinners against himself, Heb. xii. 2, 3. And this may prove a mean to keep us from wearying and fainting in our minds, as the apostle hinteth there.
9. They would remember, that Christ going before, as the Captain of their salvation, hath broken the ice to them, and the force and strength of all those discouragements, as we did lately show; so that now they should be looked upon as broken and powerless discouragements.
10. They would fix their eye by faith on Jesus, as only able to do their business, to bear up their head, to carry them through discouragements, to apply cordials to their fainting hearts, and remain fixed in that posture and resolution, looking for strengthening and encouraging life from him, and from him alone; and thus declare, that, (1.) They are unable of themselves to stand out such storms of discouragements, and to wrestle through such difficulties. (2.) They believe he is only able to bear them up, and carry them through, and make them despise all those discouragements which the devil and their own evil hearts muster up against them. (3.) That come what will come, they will not quit the bargain--they will never recall or take back their subscription and consent to the covenant of grace, and to Christ, as theirs, offered therein, though they should die and die again by the way. (4.) That they would fain be kept on in the way, and helped forward without failing and fainting by the way. (5.) That they cannot run through hard walls--they cannot do impossibilities--they cannot break through such mighty discouragements. (6.) That yet through him they can do all things. (7.) That he must help, or they are gone, and shall never win through all these difficulties and discouragements, but shall one day or other die by the hand of Saul. (8.) That they will wait, earnestly seeking help from him, crying for it, and looking for it, and resolve never to give over, and if they be disappointed they are disappointed.
Now for the last particular, the word of caution, take these,
1. They would not think to be altogether free of fainting, for there is no perfection here, and there is much flesh and corruption remaining, and that will occasion fainting.
2. Nor would they think to be free of all the causes and occasions of this fainting, viz. the discouragements formerly mentioned, or the like; for, if the devil can do any thing, he will work discouragements, both within and without. So that they would lay their resolution to meet with discouragements; for few or none ever went to heaven but they had many a storm in their face; and they must not think to have a way paved for themselves alone.
3. They would not pore too much, or dwell too long and too much upon the thoughts of those discouragements; for that is Satan's advantage, and tendeth to weaken themselves. But it were better to be looking beyond them, as Christ did, Heb. xii. 2, when he had the cross and the shame to wrestle with, he looked to the joy that was set before him; and that made him endure the cross and despise the shame; and as Moses did, Heb. xi. 25-27, when he had afflictions and the wrath of the king to wrestle against; he had respect unto the recompense of the reward, and so he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
4. They would remember that as Christ hath tender bowels, and is full of compassion, and is both ready and able to help them; so is he wise, and knoweth how to let out his mercies best. He is not like a foolish, affectionate mother, that would hazard the life of the child, before she put the child to any pain. He seeth what is best for his own glory, and for their good here and hereafter; and that he will do with much tenderness and readiness.
5. They would look upon it as no mean mercy, if, notwithstanding of all the discouragements and storms that blow in their face, they are helped to keep their face up the hill, and are fixed in their resolution, never willingly to turn their back upon the way of God, but to continue creeping forward as they may, whatever storms they meet with; yea, upon this account ought they heartily to bless his name, and to rejoice; for "their hearts shall live that seek him," Psalm xxii. 26.
6. They would remember, for their encouragement, that as many have been helped through all discouragements, and have been brought home at length, so may they be brought through all those storms which now they wrestle with. It is the glory of the Mediator to bring his broken, torn, and sinking vessel, safe to shore.