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Nothing can certainly be determined concerning the nature of the affections, that comforts and joys seem to follow in a certain order.
Many persons seem to be prejudiced against affections and experiences that come in such a method as has been much insisted on by many divines; first, such awakenings, fears and awful apprehensions followed with such legal humblings, in a sense of total sinfulness and helplessness, and then, such and such light and comfort. They look upon all such schemes, laying down such methods and steps, to be of men's devising and particularly if high affections of joy follow great distress and terror, it is made by many an argument against those affections. But such prejudices and objections are without reason or scripture. Surely it cannot be unreasonable to suppose, that before God delivers persons from a state of sin and exposedness to eternal destruction, he should give them some considerable sense of the evil from which he delivers; that they may be delivered sensibly, and understand their own salvation, and know something of what God does for them. As men that are saved are in two exceeding different states, first a state of condemnation, and then in 'a state of justification and blessedness; and as God, in the work of salvation, deals with them suitably to their intelligent nature; so it seems reasonable, and agreeable to God's wisdom, that men who are saved, should be in these two states sensibly; that they should be first sensible of their absolute extreme necessity, and afterwards of Christ's sufficiency and God's mercy through him.
And that it is God's manner of dealing with men, to lead them into a wilderness, before he speaks comfortably to them, and so to order it, that they shall be brought into distress, and made to see their own helplessness, and absolute dependence on his power and grace, before he appears to work any great deliverance for them, is abundantly manifest by the scripture. Then is God wont to repent himself for his professing people, when their strength is gone, and there is none shut up or left: and when they are brought to see that their false gods cannot help them, and that the rock in whom they trusted is vain, Deut. xxxii. 36, 37. Before God delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt, they were prepared for it, by being made to see that they were in an evil case, and to cry unto God, because of their hard bondage, Exod. ii. 23. and v. And before God wrought that great deliverance for them at the Red sea, they were brought into great distress, the wilderness had shut them in, they could not turn to the right hand nor the left. The Red sea was before them, the great Egyptian
host behind, and they were brought to see that they could do nothing to help themselves, and that if God did not help them, they should be immediately swallowed up. Then God appeared, and turned their cries into songs. So before they were brought to their rest, and to enjoy the milk and honey of Canaan, God led them through a great and terrible wilderness, that he might humble them, and teach them what was in their heart, and so do them good in their latter end, Deut. viii. 2, 16. The woman that had the issue of blood twelve years, was not delivered, until she had first spent all her living on earthly physicians, and could not be healed of any, and so was left helpless, having no more money to spend. Then she came to the great Physician, without money or price, and was healed by him, Luke viii. 43, 44. Before Christ could answer the request of the woman of Canaan, he first seemed utterly to deny her, and humbled her, and brought her to own herself worthy to be called a dog; and then he shewed her mercy, and received her as a dear child, Matth. xv. 22, &c. The apostle Paul, before a remarkable deliverance, was pressed out of measure above strength, insomuch that he despaired even of life; but had the sentence of death in himself, that he might not trust in himself, but in God that raiseth the dead, 2 Cor. i. 8, 9, 10. There was first a great tempest, and the ship was covered with the waves, and just ready to sink, and the disciples were brought to cry to Jesus, Lord, save us, we perish; then the winds and seas were rebuked, and there was a great calm, Matth. viii. 24-26. The leper, before he was cleansed, must have his mouth stopped, by a covering on his upper lip, and was to acknowledge his great misery and utter uncleanness, by rending his clothes, and crying, Unclean, unclean, Lev. xiii. 45. And backsliding Israel, before God heals them, are brought to acknowledge that they have sinned, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord; to see that they lie down in their shame, and that confusion covers them; that in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains, and that God only can save them, Jer. iii. 23, 24, 25. Joseph, who was sold by his brethren, and therein was a type of Christ, brings his brethren into great perplexity and distress, to reflect on their sin, and to say, we are verily guilty, and at last to resign up themselves entirely into his hands for bondThen he reveals himself to them, as their brother and their
If we consider those extraordinary manifestations which God made of himself to saints of old, we shall find that he commonly first manifested himself in a way which was terrible, and then by those things that were comfortable. So it was with Abraham; first, a horror of great darkness fell upon him, and then God revealed himself to him in sweet promises, Gen. xv. 12, 13. So it
was with Moses at Mount Sinai; first, God appeared to him in all the terrors of his dreadful majesty, so that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake; and then he made all his goodness to pass before him, and proclaimed his name, The Lord God gracious and merciful, &c. So it was with Elijah; first, there is a stormy wind, and earthquake, and devouring fire, and then a still, small, sweet voice, 1 Kings xix. So it was with Daniel; he first saw Christ's countenance as lightning, that terrified him, and caused him to faint away; and then he is strengthened and refreshed with such comfortable words as these, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, Dan. x. So it was with the apostle John, Rev. i. There is an analogy observable in God's dispensations and deliverances which he works for his people, and the manifestation which he makes of himself to them, both ordinary and extraordinary.
But there are many things in scripture which more directly shew, that this is God's ordinary manner in working salvation for the souls of men; and in the manifestations he makes of himself and of his mercy in Christ, in the ordinary works of his grace on the hearts of sinners. The servant that owed his prince ten thousand talents, is first held to his debt. The king pronounces sentence of condemnation upon him, and commands him to be sold, and his wife and children, that payment be made. Thus he humbles him, and brings him to own the whole debt to be just; and then forgives him all. The prodigal son spends all he has, is brought to see himself in extreme circumstances, to humble himself, and own his unworthiness, before he is relieved and feasted by his father, Luke xv. Old inveterate wounds must be searched to the bottom, in order to healing: and to this the scripture compares sin, the wound of the soul, and speaks of healing this wound without thus searching it, as vain and deceitful, Jer. viii. 11. Christ, in the work of his grace on the hearts of men, is compared to rain on the mown grass, grass that is cut down with a scythe, Psal. lxxii. 6. representing his refreshing, comforting influences on the wounded spirit. Our first parents, after they had sinned, were first terrified with God's majesty and justice, and had their sin, with its aggravations, set before them by their Judge, before they were relieved by the promise of the seed of the woman. Christians are spoken of as those that have fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before them, Heb. vi. 18. which representation implies great fear, and sense of danger preceding. To the like purpose, Christ is called a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, and as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, Is. xxxii. And it seems to be the natural import of the word gospel, glad tidings, that it is news of deliverance and salvation,
after great fear and distress. There is all reason to suppose, that God deals with particular believers, as he dealt with his church, which he first made to hear his voice in the law, with terrible thunders and lightnings, and kept her under that schoolmaster, to prepare her for Christ; and then comforted her with the joyful sound of the gospel from Mount Sion. So likewise John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Christ, and prepare men's hearts for his reception, by shewing them their sins, and by bringing the self-righteous Jews off from their own righteousness, telling them that they were a generation of vipers, and shewing them their danger of the wrath to come, telling them that the ax was laid at the root of the trees, &c.
If it be indeed God's manner, (and I think the foregoing considerations shew that it undoubtedly is), before he gives men the comfort of a deliverance from their sin and misery, to give them a considerable sense of the greatness and dreadfulness of those evils, and their extreme wretchedness by reason of them; surely it is not unreasonable to suppose, that persons, at least oftentimes, while under these views, should have great distresses and terrible apprehensions of mind. For let it be considered what these evils are, of which they have a view; viz. great and manifold sins, against the infinite majesty of the great JEHOVAH, and the suffering of the fierceness of his wrath to all eternity. And we have many plain instances in scripture, of persons that have actually been brought into extreme distress by such convictions, before they have received saving consolations: as the multitude at Jerusalem, who were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter, and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? The apostle Paul trembled and was astonished, before he was comforted; and the jailor called for a light, sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
From these things it appears to be very unreasonable in professing Christians, to make this an objection against the truth and spiritual nature of their comfortable and joyful affections, viz. that they follow such awful apprehensions and distresses as have been mentioned.
On the other hand, it is no evidence that comforts and joys are right, because they succeed great terrors, and amazing fears of hell. This seems to be what some persons lay great weight upon; esteeming great terrors an evidence of a great work of
* MR. SHEPARD speaks of "men's being cast down as low as hell by sorrow and lying under chains, quaking in apprehension of terror to come, and then raised up to heaven in joy, not able to live; and yet not rent from lust; and such are objects of pity now, and are like to be the objects of terror at the great day.”—Parable of the Ten Virgins, P. i. p. 125.
the law wrought on the heart, well preparing the way for solid comfort; not considering that terror, and a conviction of conscience, are different things. For though convictions of conscience often cause terror; yet they do not consist in it; and terrors often arise from other causes. Convictions of conscience, through the influences of God's Spirit, consist in conviction of sinfulness in heart and practice, and of the dreadfulness of sin, as committed against a God of terrible majesty, infinite holiness and hatred of sin, and strict justice in punishing of it. But some persons have frightful apprehensions of hell-a dreadful pit ready to swallow them up, flames just ready to lay hold of them, and devils all around ready to seize them-who at the same time seem to have very little proper light of conscience, really convincing them of their sinfulness of heart and life. The devil, if permitted, can terrify men as well as the Spirit of God. It is a work natural to him, and he has many ways of doing it in a manner tending to no good. He may exceedingly affright persons by impressing on them many external images and doleful ideas; as of a countenance frowning, a sword drawn, black clouds of vengeance, words of an awful doom pronounced,* hell gaping, devils coming, and the like—not in order to convince persons of things that are true, and revealed in the word of God, but, to lead them to vain and groundless determinations; as that their day is past, that they are reprobated, that God is implacable, that he has come to a resolution immediately to cut them off, &c.
And the terrors of some persons are very much owing to their particular constitution and temper. Nothing is more manifest, than that some persons are of such a temper and frame, that their imaginations are strongly impressed with every thing they are af fected with; and the impression on the imagination re-acts on the affection, and raises that still higher. Affection and imagination act reciprocally one on another, till their affection is raised to a vast height; so the person is swallowed up, and loses all possession of himself.t
Some speak of a great sight they have of their wickedness, who really, when the matter comes to be well examined, are found to have little or no convictions of conscience. They speak of a
"The way of the Spirit's working, when it does convince men, is by enlightening natural conscience. The Spirit does not work by giving a testimony, but by assisting natural conscience to do its work. Natural conscience is the instrument in the hand of God, to accuse, condemn, terrify, and to urge to duty. The spirit of God leads men into the consideration of their danger, and makes them to be affected therewith, Prov. xx. 27. The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly." STODDARD'S Guide to Christ, page 44.
+ The famous Mr. PERKINS distinguishes between "those sorrows that come through convictions of conscience, and melancholic passions arising only from mere imaginations, strongly conceived in the brain; which he says, usually come on a sudden, like lightning into a house." Vol. i. of his works, page 385.