Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Invite the Promise

William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, Vol. 1, pp. 239-241 and Vol. 2, pp. 279-280:

Direction Second. If, upon enquiry, thou findest that thy armour decays, rather for want of scouring, than by any blow from sin presumptuously committed, as that is most common and ordinary—for rust will soon spoil the best armour, and negligence give grace its bane, as well as gross sins—then apply thyself to the use of those means which God hath appointed for the strengthening [of] grace. If the fire goes out by taking off the wood, what way [is there] to preserve it, but by laying it on again?

1. I shall sent thee to the Word of God; be more frequently conversant with it. David tells us where he renewed his spiritual life, and got his soul so oft into a heavenly heat, when grace in him began to chill. The Word, he tells us, quickened him. This was the sunny bank he sat under. The Word draws forth the Christian's grace, by presenting every one with an object suitable to act upon. This is of great power to rouse them up; as the coming in of a friend makes us, though sleepy before, shake off all drowsiness to enjoy his company. Affections are actuated when their object is before them. If we love a person, love is excited by sight of him, or anything that minds us of him; if we hate one, our blood riseth much more against him when before us. Now the Word brings the Christian graces and their object together. Here love may delight herself with the beholding Christ, who is set out to life there in all his love and loveliness. Here the Christian may see his sins in a glass that will not flatter him; and can there any godly sorrow be in the heart, any hatred of sin, and not come forth, whole the man is reading what they cost Christ for him?

2. From the word go to meditation. This is as bellows to the fires. That grace which lies choked and eaten up for want of exercise, will by this be cleared and break forth. While thou art musing this fire will burn, and thy heart grow hot within thee, according to the nature of the subject thy thoughts dwell upon. Resolve, therefore, Christian, to inclose time from all worldly suitors, wherein thou mayest every day, if possible, at least take a view of the most remarkable occurrences that have passed between God and thee.

(1.) Ask thy soul what takings it hath had that day, what mercies heaven hath sent into thee? and do not, when thou hast asked the question, like Pilate, go out, but stay till thy soul has made report of God’s gracious dealings with thee. And, if thou beest wise to observe, and faithful to relate them, thy conscience must tell thee, that the cock was never turned, the breast of mercy never put up all the day, yea, while thou art viewing these fresh mercies, telling over this new coin, hot out of the mint of God’s bounty, ancient mercies will come crowding in upon thee, and call for a place in thy thoughts, and tell thee what God hath done for thee months and years ago. And indeed old debts should not be paid last; give them, Christian, all a hearing one time or another, and thou shalt see how they will work upon thy ingenuous spirit. It is with the Christian in this case, as with some merchant’s servant that keeps his master’s cash; he tells his master he hath a great sum of his by him, and desires he would discharge him of it, and see how his accounts stand, but he can never find him at leisure. There is a great treasure of mercy always in the Christian's hands, and conscience is oft calling the Christian to take the account, and see what God has done for him; but seldom it is he can find time to tell his mercies over. And is it any wonder that such should go behind-hand in their spiritual estate, who take no more notice of what the gracious dealings of God are with them? How can he be thankful that seldom thinks what he receives? or patient when God afflicts, that wants one of the most powerful arguments to pacify a mutinous spirit in trouble, and that is taken from the abundant good we receive at the hands of the Lord as well as a little evil? how can such a soul’s love flame to God, that is kept at such a distance from the mercies of God, which are fuel to it? And the like might be said of all the other graces.

(2.) Reflect upon thyself, and bestow a few serious thoughts upon thy own behaviour—what it hath been towards God and man all along the day. Ask thy soul, as Elisha his servant, ‘Whence comest thou, O my soul? where hast thou been? what hast thou done for God this day? and how?’ And when thou goest about this, look that thou neither beest taken off from a thorough search, as Jacob was by Rachel’s specious excuse, nor be found to cocker thyself, as Eli his sons, when thou shalt upon inquiry take thy heart tardy in any part of thy duty. Take heed what thou doest, for thou judgest for God, who receives the wrong by thy sin, and therefore will do himself justice if thou wilt not.

3. From meditation go to prayer. Indeed, a soul in meditation is on his way to prayer; that duty leads the Christian to this, and this brings help to that. When the Christian has done his utmost by meditation to excite his graces, and chase his spirit into some divine heat, he knows all this is but to lay the wood in order. The fire must come from above to kindle, and this must be fetched by prayer. They say stars have greatest influences when they are in conjunction with the sun; then sure the graces of a saint should never work more powerfully than in prayer, for then he is in the nearest conjunction and communion with God. That ordinance that hath such power with God, must needs have a mighty influence on ourselves. It will not let God rest, but raiseth him up to his people’s succour, and is it any wonder if it be a means to rouse up and excite the Christian’s grace? How oft do we see a dark cloud upon David’s spirit at the beginning of his prayer, which by that time he is a little warm in his work, begins to clear up, and before his ends breaks forth into high actings of faith and acclamations of praise? Only here, Christian, take heed of formal praying, this is as baneful to grace as not praying. A plaster, though proper and of sovereign virtue, yet if it be laid on cold, may do more hurt than good.
Let it be thy care therefore, Christian, to practice this duty of meditation. Do not only exchange a few words with the promise, as one does with a friend passing by at his door. But invite the promise, as Abraham did the angels, Gen. 18, not to pass away till thou hast more fully enjoyed it. Yea, constrain it as the disciples did Christ, to stay with thee all the night of thy affliction. This is to ‘acquaint’ ourselves indeed with God, the ready way to be at peace. This is the way the saints have taken to raise their faith to such a pitch, as to triumph over the most formidable calamities. ‘My beloved,’ saith the spouse, ‘shall lie all night between my breasts.’ That is, when benighted with any sorrowful afflicting providence, she shall pass away the night comfortably in the meditation of his love and loveliness, his beauty and sweetness. Never will the Christian come to any kindly heat of comfort in his spirit, till he takes this Abishag of the promise into his bosom to cherish him. And this will do it indeed. A soul that hath learned this heavenly art of meditation will feel no more the extremity of any affliction, than you do the sharpness of the cold weather when you are sitting by a good fire, or lying in a warm bed. It was a notable speech of Julius Palmer, an English martyr [RAM: Palmer was executed for the faith on July 16, 1556]: ‘To them,’ saith he, ‘that have their mind fettered to the body as a thief’s foot is to a pair of stocks, it is hard to die. But if any be able to separate his soul from his body, then by the help of God’s Spirit, it is no more mastery for such a one than to drink this cup.’ He meant, if the creature be able to elevate his mind and thoughts above his sufferings by heavenly meditation on the ‘great and precious promises,’ then it were nothing to suffer. Such a one, his soul is in heaven; and a soul in heaven feels little what the flesh meets with on earth. Here, O ye Christians, is the most glorious prospect to be seen on this side heaven!

When the soul stands upon this Pisgah of meditation, looking by an eye of faith through the perspective of the promise upon all the great and precious things laid up by a faithful God for him, it is easy to despise the world's love and wrath. But alas! it is hard for us to get up thither, who are so short-breathed and soon tired with a few steps up this mount of God. O let us all cry out, as once David, ‘Lead me to the rock that is higher than I!’ And with him in another place, ‘Who will bring me into the strong city?...wilt no thou, O God?’ So, who will lift us up to this high, holy hill of meditation, higher than all the surging waves that dash upon us from beneath, where we may see all our creature-enjoyments drowned, yet ourselves not wetshod? Wilt not thou, O God? Yes, our God would do this for us, would we but shake off our sloth, and show, by parting with our mandrakes to purchase his company, that we highly prize the same. My meaning is—would we but frequently retire from the world, and bestow some of that time in secret waiting upon God which we lavish out upon inferior pleasures and entertainments of the creature, we should invite God's Holy Spirit to us. Let a wicked man set up a lust for his thoughts to dally with, and the devil will soon be at his elbow to assist him. And shall we not believe the Holy Spirit as ready to lend his helping hand to a holy meditation? Doubtless he is. Spread thou thy sails and the Spirit will fill them with his heavenly breath. Be but thou the priest to lay the wood and sacrifice in order, and fire from heaven will come down upon it. Be thou but careful to provide fuel—gather from the promises matter for meditation, and set thy thoughts awork upon it—and the Spirit of God will kindle thy affections. ‘While I was musing,’ saith David, ‘the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,’ Ps. 39:3. Isaac met his bride in the fields; and the gracious soul her beloved, when she steps aside, to walk with the promise in her solitary thoughts.

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