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the most proper method to affect us, and he will certainly accompany his own methods with his own grace. And therefore every one of you may expect to reap that profit from this scripture, which the holy Spirit intended it should be the means of conveying to the faithful, if you put yourselves under his guidance and seek his blessing, while I am
First, Going through a paraphrase upon the words, and then
Secondly, Applying them as a motive to inspire you with thankfulness.
And first, The words relate to the redeemed, and describe the state which they were in, before they partook of the blessings of redemption : before they were gathered together out of all lands, and admitted into the flock of the great shepherd and bishop of souls, they wandered in the wilderness, where they were neither fed in green pastures, nor led forth beside the waters of comfort. Their spiritual state was so much like the natural condition of a dry barren wilderness, that the scriptures commonly describe it by this name. Ezekiel calls it the wilderness of the people, the desolate state of the heathen people, and not of the country--and the prophet Isaiah foretels the happy change of this desolated -state of the heathen people, when the holy Spirit should be poured upon them, (xxxii. 15.) “until the Spirit be poured upon us from * on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field.” When the abundant streams of his grace should descend upon the heathen world, then the wilderness and the solitary place should be glad, and the desert should rejoice and blossom as the rose-it should blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing. But before this blessed change was made, we were all in a waste howling wilderness, where, the Psalmist says, we wandered in a solitary way, for by sin we had lost the way to heaven.—All flesh-the whole human nature, says Moses, had corrupted his way upon earthand this corruption soon discovers itself, and breaks out
very early in life, for the prophet declares, that as soon as they are born they go astray, and when they grow up, they have no power to return into the right way, but are like lost sheep, which can never of themselves find the way back again into the fold, after they have once strayed from it. And therefore, in the livi. of Isaiah, our wretched condition is represented by this image- All we, not one of us excepted-all we like sheep have gone astray-we had wandered from the fold of the church, had strayed from the true shepherd, and got out of his pleasant and fruitful pastures into the desolate wilderness, where we had lost ourselves, and could find no way out of it, and no food in it: for while all the heathen world wandered in this solitary wilderness, they were hungry and thirsty, even to such a degree, that their soul fainted in them; for want of food their strength began to fail them, and they were even hard at death's door.
Now if you consider the propriety of this image only in its natural light, it is very striking, though it be very familiar. Suppose a person to be travelling through some desolate uninhabited country, like the deserts of Arabia, and unhappily to lose his way, and after wandering for some days, all his provision being gone, his spirits and his strength fail him, hunger and thirst begin to prey upon his vitals, and no hope of deliverance from any human means appearing, his soul really faints in him, and he gives himself up to despair. Is not this a scene of exquisite distress, and such as a person of the least tenderness cannot behold without being greatly moved with pity? for this miserable traveller cannot support himself much longer; his dissolution is drawing nigh, he already sinks under the fatigues of mind and body, and famine will soon put an end to his wretched life. And if you should happen to be passing by this way, soon after the breath was gone out of his body, and should see his ghastly appearance, how pale and emaciated, and frightful his dead corpse looked, then your heart would melt over him, and you
could not avoid shedding one compassionate tear. But how much more sensibly would his death affect you, if you begun to be apprehensive of this same danger; if you had also lost your way, were without food, your spirits and strength failing, and scarce any hopes left of your finding the right way again ? When you thus made his case your own, your concern would be double, and you would be in the utmost distress for your own safety, seeing before your eyes an unhappy fellow.creature, who perished in the same circumstances.
Now if this case, which is only a temporal calamity, and to which death will put an end, would naturally move our pity, and excite our compassion, how much more should the same case in spirituals affect us? Be'cause here the calamity is endless, and death does not finish, but rather is an entrance and opening into eternal distress ? So that if the case in common life moved you greatly, then this in spiritual life should move you inlinitely more. Call up then the softest emotions of your tenderness, and compassion, and mourn over that unhappy person, whose spiritual misery is painted out and represented by the lost, starving, and dying traveller in the wilderness. You may see from what his body suffers, how much the soul of the poor helpless sinner is to suffer, who has lost his way to heaven, and who wanders in search of it without any guide or direction, and after all his labour and pains to find it out, wearied and hungry, and fainting for thirst, he is forced to give over the search: his soul is ready to perish, for want of the divine support, and of the streams of divine grace, which Christ and the holy Spirit only can give, and which are as necessary to the life of the soul, as meat and drink are to the life of the body. And if none be soon sent to this lost sinner he dies, not only to this world, but he also dies from God, and from all the glories of the heavenly kingdom-he is eternally ruined and undone. Here then is an object a thousand times more miserable, than the poor traveller who perished in
the wilderness. And can you behold, how is it possible for you (my brethren) to think of this infinitely more miserable object, and not to be infinitely more affected with it? Doubtless every one among you, who can feel for others, and has any bowels of compassion in him, must mourn over this unhappy man, who is just falling into torments, which know no intermission-no end. Oh! it is a dreadful case, beyond description distressful-God grant you may never know what it is, to be tormented for ever and ever in the flames of hell. And if you can thus pity another person in this distress, () shut not up the bowels of your compassion against your own selves: for this is indeed your own case. You are this very lost ruined sinner. Every one of you is, every son of Adam is in this wilderness—in it you have lost your way to heaven, and with the best of your natural abilities and reasoning powers cannot find it again: or if you could find it, yet you are not able to walk in it, because you are dying of hunger and thirst, whether you feel it or not : for you have no food from Christ, who says, I am the bread of life, to support your sinful souls, and therefore you must perish with hunger, and you have no grace from the holy Spirit, which is the water of life, and therefore you must perish with thirst. This is by nature the condition of every man who cometh into the world—and whoever thou art, who hast not seen thyself in this condition, thou art still in the waste and howling wilderness. Although the body may lodge in a palace, yet thy poor soul is in a desert: for if thou hast not yet found thy lost estate, thou hast not yet taken one step toward thy recovery. If thou hast not seen and felt thy misery--that thou hast lost thy way to heaven, and hast no merit to support thee, no grace to sanctify thee; if thou hast not seen this, Oh miserable man thou art blind indeed. Thou art under the strongest delusion of sin, which shews its power over thee, by thus obscuring and darkening all the faculties of the soul. But if it should please God to open thine eyes, thou wouldst, to thy amazement see
nothing around thee, but a waste barren wilderness, where thou now fanciest nature to be flourishing and fruitful. And may his good Spirit indeed enlighten your understandings, and shew you evidently your miserable state, that there may be raised in your hearts a strong cry for deliverance. And if you find any prayer, if it be but a desire, rising in your minds, to accept of full and free redemption through Jesus Christ, hear how comfortably the holy Spirit exhorts you to apply to him in your distress, as it follows in the 6th verse. " Then they cried unto the Lord in their « trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.” They were in the wilderness, had lost their way, had no food, were perishing, they could only cry unto the Lord; they had no help or hope left, but throwing themselves upon his mercy to pray him to interpose in their behalf. When misery brings us thus to know and feel our wretchedness, then our deliverance draweth nigh: for God is always more ready to help, than we are to pray to him for help. And we cannot have a happier proof of his readiness to help, than in his sending us those troubles, which send us to him, and which thereby bring us deliverance. And we have great reason to be thankful unto him, and to kiss the rod, whenever its chastisements dispose us to seek his face. “ I will go and return to my place,” says the God of all mercy, in the prophet Hosea v. 15. “ till “ they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face, “ in their affliction they will seek me early.” How full is this passage of the most tender love and affection ? You see our God sends afflictions, even to his enemies, with a design to do them good ; he suffers them to fall into distresses, from which the arm of flesh cannot deliver them, that they may be brought to acknowledge their offence, and to seek his face, who is almighty to deliver. And whenever outward sufferings produce this inward humiliation, then the design of them is answered ; for then the mind is righty disposed to look up to heaven, from whence only cometh help in tinue of need. And