Delight of believers in the holy institutions of divine worship – The grounds and reasons thereof – The evidence of being spiritually minded thereby, etc.
That all true believers, whose minds are spiritually renewed, have a singular delight in all the institutions and ordinances of divine worship is fully evident, both in the examples of the saints in the Scripture and their own experience, which they will never forego; for this hath heen the greatest cause of their suffering persecution, and martyrdom itself, in all ages.
If the primitive Christians under the power of the pagan emperors, or the witnesses for Christ under the antichristian apostasy, would or could have omitted the observance of them (according to the advice and practice of the Gnostics), they might have escaped the rage of their adversaries. But they loved not their lives in comparison to that delight which they had in the observance of the commands of Christ as unto the duties of evangelical worship.
David gives us frequently an instance hereof in himself: “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday” (Ps 42:1-4).
“O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips” (Ps 63:1-5).
“How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah” (Ps 84:1-4).
But “a greater than David is here.” Our Lord Jesus Christ himself did, upon all occasions, declare his delight in and zeal for all the ordinances of divine worship which were then in force by virtue of divine institution and command; for although he severely reproved and rejected whatever men had added thereunto, under the pretence of a supererogating strictness of outward order, laying it all under that dreadful sentence, “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be plucked up,” and so cast into the fire, yet as unto what was of divine appointment, his delight therein was singular, and exemplary unto all his disciples.
With respect hereunto was it said of him, that “the zeal of God’s house had eaten him up,” by reason of the affliction which he had in his spirit to see the worship of it neglected, polluted, and despised. This caused him to cleanse the temple, the seat of divine worship, from the polluters and pollutions of it, not long before his sufferings, in the face and unto the high provocation of all his adversaries. So with earnest desire he longed for the celebration of his last passover: “With desire have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).
And it is a sufficient evidence of the frame of spirit and practice of his disciples afterward, in reference to the duties of evangelical worship by his appointment, that the apostle gives it as an assured token of an unsound condition, and that which tendeth to final, cursed apostasy, when any fall into a neglect of them (Heb 10:25-27).
These things are manifest and unquestionable. But our present inquiry is only, what it is which believers do so delight in in the ordinances and institutions of divine gospel worship, and what it is that engageth their hearts and minds into a diligent observance of them, as also how and wherein they do exercise their love and delight.
And I say, in general, that their delight in all ordinances of divine worship – as is evident in the testimonies before produced — is in Christ himself, or God in Christ. This alone is that which they seek after, cleave unto, and are satisfied withal. They make use of the streams, but only as means of communication with the spring. When men are really renewed in the spirit of their minds it is so. Their regard unto ordinances and duties of divine worship is, as they are appointed of God a blessed means of communion and intercourse between himself in Christ and their souls. By them doth Christ communicate of his love and grace unto us; in and by them do we act faith and love on him.
It is the treasure hid in the field, which when a man hath found he purchaseth the whole field; but it is that he may enjoy the treasure which is hid therein (Matt 13:44). This field is the gospel and all the ordinances of it. This men do purchase sometimes at a dear rate, even with the loss of all they enjoy. But yet if they obtain nothing but the field, they will have little cause to rejoice in their bargain. It is Christ the treasure alone, that pearl of great price, that will certainly enrich the soul. The field is to be used only [so] as to find and dig up the treasure that is in it. It is, I say, Christ alone that, in the preaching of the gospel, renewed affections do cleave unto as the treasure, and unto all other things accordmg as their relation is unto him, or as they have a participation of him. Wherefore, in all duties of religion, in all ordinances of worship, their inquiry is after him whom their souls love (Song 1:7).
But yet we must treat more particularly and distinctly of these things. Those whose affections are spiritually renewed do love, adhere unto, and delight in, ordinances of divine service and duties of worship, on the grounds and reasons ensuing:
1. In general they do so as they find faith, and love, and delight in God through Christ, excited and acted in and by them.
This is the first and immediate end in their institution. It is a pernicious mistake to suppose that any external duties of worship, as hearing the word, prayer, or the sacraments, are appointed for themselves or accepted for themselves.
Such thoughts the Jews of old had concerning their sacrifices – namely, that they were appointed for their own sake, and were acceptable service unto God merely on their own account. Wherefore God, to deliver them from this pernicious mistake, affirms ofttimes that he never appointed them at all; that is, for any such end (Jer 7:22,23; Is 1:12,13; etc). And now, under the gospel, sundry things destructive to the souls of men have proceeded from such a supposition.
Some hereon have always satisfied and contented themselves with the external observance of them, without desiring Or endeavouring any holy communion with God in them or by them. This constitutes the state and condition mentioned in Rev 3:1. And by following this track the generality of Christians do wander out of the way; they cannot leave them, nor do they know how to use them unto their advantage, until they come wholly unto that woful state in Isaiah 29:13.
And some, to establish this deceit, have taught that there is much more in the outward work of these duties than ever God put into them, and that they are sanctified merely by virtue of the work wrought.
But all the duties of the second commandment, as are all instituted ordinances of worship, are but means to express and exercise those of the first, as faith, love, fear, trust, and delight in God. The end of them all is, that through them and by them we may act those graces on God in Christ. Where this is not attended unto, when the souls of men do not apply themselves unto this exercise of grace in them, let them be never so solemn as to their outward performance, be attended unto with diligence, be performed with earnestness and delight, they are neither acceptable unto God nor beneficial unto themselves (Isa 1:11).
This, therefore, is the first general spring of the love of believers, of them whose affections are spiritually renewed, unto the ordinances of divine worship, and their delight in them: They have experience that in and by them their faith and love are excited unto a gracious exercise of themselves on God in Christ; and when they find it otherwise with them, they can have no rest in their souls. For this end are they ordained, sanctified, and blessed of God; and therefore are effectual means of it, when their efficacy is not defeated by unbelief.
And these who have no experience hereof in their attendance unto them do, as hath been said, fall into pernicious extremes. Some continue their observance with little regard unto God, in cursed formality. So they make them a means of their ruin by countenancing of them in their security. Others utterly reject them, at least the most solemn of them — and therein both the wisdom, and grace, and authority of God, by whom they are appointed — because, through the power of their own unbelief, they find nothing in them.
This being the immediate end of all divine institutions; this being the only way whereby we may give glory unto God in their observance, which is their ultimate end in this world; and this being the design in general of believers in that obedience they yield unto the Lord Christ in their diligent observation of them, we may consider how, in what way, and by what means, those whose affections are spiritually renewed do and ought to apply their minds and souls unto their observance. And we may consider herein, first, what they do design, and then what they endeavour to be found in the exercise and practice of in their use and enjoyment:
(1.) They come unto them with this desire, design, and expectation — namely, to be enabled, directed, and excited by them unto the exercise of divine faith and love.
When it is not so with any, where there is not this design, they do in various degrees take the name of God in vain in their observance. These are “approximationes Dei,” the “ways of drawing nigh unto God,” as they are everywhere called in Scripture.
To suppose that a drawing nigh unto God may consist merely in the outward performance of duty, whatever be its solemnity, is to reject all due reverence of him. “Forasmuch,” saith the Lord, “as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, therefore, behold, I will proceed against them” (Isa 29:13,14). The mouth and lips are put, by a synecdoche, for all the means of outward worship and honour. These men may use, diligently attend unto, whilst their hearts are far from God – that is, when they do not draw nigh to him by faith and love; but all this worship is rejected of God with the highest tokens of his displeasure and indignation against it.
Our souls, then, have no way of approach unto God in duties of worship but by faith; no way of adherence or cleaving unto him but by love; no way of abiding in him but by fear, reverence, and delight. Whenever these are not in exercise, outward duties of worship are so far from being a means of such an approach unto him, as that they set us at a greater distance from him than we were before; at least are utterly useless and fruitless unto us.
So, indeed, they are to the most who come unto them they know not why, and behave themselves under them they care not how; nor is there any evil in the hearts and ways of men whereof God complaineth more in his word, as that which is accompanied with the highest contempt of him.
And because these ordinances of divine worship are means which the wisdom and grace of God have appointed unto this end, namely, the exercise and increase of divine faith and love, and therefore do sanctify and bless them thereunto, I do not believe that they have any delight in the exercise of these graces, nor design growth in them, by whom these great means of them are despised or neglected.
And although I have seen those valleys of public worship forsaken, either on pretences of higher attainments in faith, light, and love, than to stand in need of them any more; or on a foolish opinion that they cease upon the dispensation of the Spirit, which is given unto us to make them useful and effectual; or on some provocations that have been given unto some men, or which they have taken unto themselves, which they have thought they could revenge by a neglect of public administrations; or through slavish peace and negligence in times of difficulty, as is the manner of some who forsake the assemblies of the saints (Heb 10:25); – yet I never saw but it issued in a great decay, if not in an utter loss, of all exercise of faith and love, and sometimes in open profaneness: for such persons contemn the ways and means which God, in his infinite wisdom and goodness, hath appointed for their exercise and increase; and this shall not prosper.
We may therefore do well to consider that the principal way whereby we may sanctify the name of God in all duties of his worship, and obtain the benefit of them to our own souls, is by a conscientious approach unto them, with a holy desire and design to be found in the exercise of faith and love on God in Christ, and to be helped and guided therein by them.
To be under an efficacious influence from this design is the best preparation for any duty. So David expressed his delight in the worship of God: “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God” (Ps 84:1,2). He longed for the tabernacle and the courts of it; but it was the enjoyment of God himself, the living God, that he desired and sought after.
This was that which made him so fervent in his desires after those ordinances of God. So he expresseth it, “To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary” (Ps 63:2). David had had great communion with and delight in God, by faith and love in the solemn duties of his worship; and this was that which inflamed him with desires after renewed opportunities unto the same end.
(2.) This design is not general, inactive, useless, and slothful; but such persons diligently endeavour, in the use of these ordinances and attendance unto them, to be found in the exercise of these graces.
They have not only an antecedent design to be so, but a diligent actual endeavour after it, not suffering their minds by any thing to be diverted from the pursuit of that design (Eccles 5:1). Whatever is not quickened and enlivened hereby they esteem utterly lost. Neither outward administrations nor order will give them satisfaction when these things are wanting in themselves. Without the internal actings of the life of faith, external administrations of ordinances of worship are but dead things, nor can any believer obtain real satisfaction in them or refreshment by them without an inward experience of faith and love in them and by them; and it is that which, if we are wise, we shall continually attend unto the consideration of. A watchful Christian will be careful lest he lose any one duty by taking up with the carcass of it.
And the danger of so doing is not small. Our affections are renewed but in part; and as they are still liable to be diverted and seduced from spirituality in duty even by things earthly and carnal, through the corruption that remaineth in them, so there is a disposition abiding in them to be pleased with those external things and religious duties which others, as we have showed before, who are no way graciously renewed, do satisfy themselves withal. The grace and oratory of the speaker in preaching of the word, especially in these days wherein the foppery of fine language, even in sacred things, is so much extolled; the order and circumstances of other duties; with inclination and love unto a party, – are apt to insinuate themselves with great complacency into our affections so far as they are unrenewed.
And these things discover the true grounds whence it is that the ordinances of divine worship are so useless as they are to many who seem to attend unto them with diligence. They may he referred to these three heads:
[1.] They do not come unto them as the means appointed of God for the exercise of faith and love unto Christ, so as to make it their design in their approaches to them; without which all that is spoken of advantage in and by other duties is utterly lost.
[2.] They do not, in and under them, labour to stir up faith and love unto their due exercise.
[3.] They suffer their minds to be diverted from the exercise of these graces, partly by occasional temptations, partly by attendance unto what is outward only in the ordinances themselves.
Spiritual affections find no place of rest in any of these things. Such proposals of God in Christ, of his will and their own duty, as may draw out their faiih, love, godly fear, and delight, into their due exercise, are that which they inquire after and acquiesce in.
Two things alone doth faith regard in all duties of worship, as unto the outward administration of it – the one absolutely, the other comparatively – both with respect unto the ends mentioned, or the exercise, growth, and increase of grace in us.
The first is, that they be of divine appointment. Where their original and observance are resolved into divine authority, there, and there alone, will they have a divine efficacy. In all these things faith hath regard to nothing but divine precepts and promises. Whatever hath regard to any thing else is not faith, but fancy; and therefore those uncommanded duties in religion, which so abound in the papal church as that if not the whole yet all the principal parts of their worship consist in them, are such as in whose discharge it is impossible faith should be in a due exercise.
That which it hath comparative respect unto, is the spiritual gifts of them unto whom the administration of the ordinances of the gospel in the public worship of the church is committed. With respect unto them, believers may have more delight and satisfaction in the ministry of one than of another, as was touched before. But this is not because one is more learned than another or more elegant than another, hath more ability of speech than another or more fervency in utterance than another, is more fervent and earnest in his delivery; but because they find the gifts of one more suited and more effectual to stir up faith and love unto a holy exercise in their minds and hearts than what they find in some others. Hence they have a peculiar value for and delight in the ministry of such persons, especially when they can enjoy it in due order, and without the offence of others. And ministers that are wise will, in holy administrations, neglect all other things, and attend to this alone, how they may be helpful unto the faith, and love, and joy of believers, so far as they are the object of their ministry.
This is the first reason and ground whereon affections spiritually renewed cleave unto ordinances of divine worship with delight and satisfaction —namely, because they are the means appointed and blessed of God for the exercise and increase of faith and love, with an experience of their efficacy unto that end.
2. The second is, because they are the means of the communication of a sense of divine love and supplies of divine grace unto the souls of them that do believe.
So far as our affections are renewed, tins is the most principal attractive to cleave unto them with delight and complacency.
They are, as was observed before, the ways of our approaching unto God. Now, we do not draw nigh to God, as himself speaks, as to a “dry heath or a barren wilderness,” where no refreshment is to be obtained. To make a pretence of coming unto God, and not with expectation of receiving good and great things from him, is to despise God himself, to overthrow the nature of the duty, and deprive our own souls of all benefit thereby. And want hereof is that which renders the worship of the most useless and fruitless unto themselves. We are always to come unto God as unto an eternal spring of goodness, grace, and mercy, of all that our souls do stand in need of, of all we can desire in order unto our everlasting blessedness.
And all these things, as unto believers, may be reduced unto the two heads before mentioned:
(1.) They come for a communication of a sense of his love in Jesus Christ.
Hence doth all our peace, consolation, and joy, all our encouragement to do and suffer according to the will of God, all our supportments under our sufferings, solely depend; in these things do our souls live; and without them we are of all men the most miserable.
It is the Holy Spirit who is the immediate efficient cause of all these things in us. He “sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts” (Rom 5:5); he witnesseth our adoption unto us (Rom 8:15,16); and thereby an interest in the love of the Father, in God as he is love. But the outward way and means whereby he ordinarily communicates these things unto us, and effects them in us, is by the dispensation of the gospel, or the preaching of it.
He doth the same work also in prayer, and ofttimes in other holy administrations. For this end, for a participation of this grace, of these mercies, do believers come unto God by them. They use them as means to “draw water from the wells of salvation,” and to receive in that spiritual sense of divine love which God by them will communicate.
So Christ by his word knocks at the door of the heart. If it be opened by faith, he cometh in and suppeth with men, giving them a gracious refreshment, by the testimony of his own love and the love of the Father (Rev 3:20, John 14:23). This believers look for in, and this they do in various measures receive by, the ordinances of divine worship. And although some, through their fears and temptations, are not sensible hereof, yet do they secretly receive those blessed, gracious supplies whereby their souls are held in life, without which they would pine away and perish. So he dealeth with them (Song 4:5,6). These are the gardens and galleries of Christ, wherein he gives us of his love (Song 7:12).
Those who are humble and sincere know how often their souls have been refreshed in them, and how long sometimes the impressions they have received of divine grace and love have continued with them, unto their unspeakable consolation. They remember what they have received in the opening and application of the “exceeding great and precious promises” that are given unto them, whereby they are gradually more and more “made partakers of the divine nature” – how many a time they have received light in darkness, refreshment under despondencies, relief in their conflicts with dangers and temptations, in and by them.
For this cause do affections that are spiritually renewed cleave unto them. Who can but love and delight in that which he hath found by experience to be the way and means of communicating unto him the most invaluable mercy, the most inestimable benefit, whereof in this life he can be made partaker? He who hath found a hidden treasure, although he should at once take away the whole of it, will yet esteem the place where he found it; but if it be of that nature that no more can be found or taken of it at once but what is sufficient for the present occasion, yet is so full and boundless as that whenever he comes again to seek for it, he shall be sure to obtain present supply, he will always value it, and constantly apply himself unto it. And such is the treasure of grace and divine love that is in the ordinances of divine worship.
If we are strangers unto these things, if we never received efficacious intimations of divine love unto our souls in and by the duties of divine worship, we cannot love them and delight in them as we ought. What do men come to hear the word of God for? What do they pray for? What do they expect to receive from him? Do they come unto God as the eternal fountain of living waters – as the God of all grace, peace, and consolation? or do they come unto his worship without any design, as unto a dry and empty show? Do they fight uncertainly with these things, as men beating the air? or think they bring something unto God, but receive nothing from him? that the best of their business is to please him in doing what he commands, but to receive any thing from him, they expect not, nor do ever examine themselves whether they have done so or no? It is not for persons who walk in such ways ever to attain a due delight in the ordinances of divine worship.
Believers have other designs herein; and among the rest this in the first place, that they may be afresh made partakers of refreshing, comforting pledges of the love of God in Christ, and thereby of their adoption, of the pardon of their sins, and acceptance of their persons.
According as they meet with these things in the duties of holy worship, public or private, so will they love, value, and adhere unto them. Some men are full of other thoughts and affections, so as that these things are not their principal design or desire, or are contented with that measure of them which they suppose themselves to have attained, or at least are not sensible of the need they stand in to have fresh communications of them made unto their souls, supposing that they can do well enough without a renewed sense of divine love every day. Some are so ignorant of what they ought to design, to look after, in the duties of gospel worship, as that it is impossible they should have any real design in them.
Many of the better sort of professors are too negligent in this matter. They do not long and pant in the inward man after renewed pledges of the love of God; they do not consider how much need they have of them, that they may be encouraged and strengthened unto all other duties of obedience; they do not prepare their minds for the reception of them, nor come with expectation of their communication unto them; they do not rightly fix their faith on this truth — namely, that these holy administrations and duties are appointed of God in the first place as the ways and means of conveying his love and a sense of it unto our souls.
From hence spring all that lukewarmness, coldness, and indifferency in and unto the duties of holy worship, that are growing among us; for if men have lost the principal design of faith in them, and disesteem the chiefest benefit which is to be obtained by them, whence should zeal for them, delight in them, or diligence in attendance unto them, arise?
Let not any please themselves under the power of such decays; they are indications of their inward frame, and those infallible! Such persons will grow cold, careless, and negligent, as unto the duties of public worship; they will put themselves neither to charge nor trouble about them; every occasion of life diverts them, and finds ready entertainment in their minds; and when they do attend upon them, it is with great indifference and unconcernedness. Yet would they have it thought that all is still as well within as ever it was; they have as good a respect unto religion as any! But these things openly discover an ulcerous disease in the very souls of men, as evidently as if it were written on their foreheads. Whatever they pretend unto the contrary, they are under the power of woful decays from all due regard unto spiritual and eternal things. And I would avoid the society of such persons as those who carry an infectious disease about them, unless it were to help on their cure.
But herein it is that affections spiritually renewed do manifest themselves: When we do delight in and value the duties of God’s worship, because we find by experience that they are and have been unto us means of communicating a sense and renewed pledges of the love of God in Christ, with all the benefits of the love of God in Christ, with all the benefits and privileges which depend thereon, then are our affections renewed in and by the Holy Ghost.
(2) They come for supplies of internal, sanctifying, strengthening grace.
This is the second great design of believers in their approaches unto God in his worship. The want hereof, as unto measures and degrees, they find in themselves, and are sensible of it; yea, therein lies the great burden of the souls of believers in this world. All that we do in the life of God may be referred to two heads:
[1.] The observance of all duties of obedience; and
[2.] The conflict with and conquest over temptations.
About these things are we continually exercised. Hence the great thing which we desire, labour for, and pant after, is spiritual strength and ability for the discharge of ourselves in a due manner with respect unto these things. This is that which every true believer groaneth after in the inward man, and which he preferreth infinitely above all earthly things. So he may have grace sufficient in any competent measure for these ends, let what will befall him, he desireth no more in this world.
God in Christ is the only fountain of all this grace; there is not one drachm of it to be obtained but from him alone. And as he doth communicate it unto us of his own sovereign goodness and pleasure, so the ordinary way and means whereby he will do it, are the duties of his worship: “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa 40:28-31).
All grace and spiritual strength is originally seated in the nature of God (Isa 40:28). But what relief can that afford unto us who are weak, feeble, fainting? He will act suitably unto his nature in the communication of this grace and power (Isa 40:29). But how shall we have an interest in this grace, in these operations? Wait on him in the ordinances of his worship (Isa 40:31).
The word as preached is the food of our souls, whereby God administereth growth and strength unto them (John 17:17). “Desire,” says he, “the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” But what encouragement have we thereunto? “If so be,” saith he, “ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Pet 2:2,3). If, in and by the dispensation of this word, you have had experience of the grace, the goodness, the kindness of God unto your souls, you cannot but desire it and delight in it; and otherwise you will not do so. When men have sat some good while under the dispensation of the word and in the enjoyment of other ordinances, without tasting in them and by them that “the Lord is gracious,” they will grow weary of it and them.
Wherefore, prayer is the way of his appointment for the application of our souls unto him to obtain a participation of all needful grace; which, therefore, he has proposed unto us in the promises of the covenant, that we may know what to ask, and how to plead for it.
In the sacraments the same promises are sealed unto as, and the grace represented in them effectually exhibited.
Meditation confirms our souls in the exercise of faith about it, and is the especial opening of the heart unto the reception of it.
By these means, I say, doth God communicate all supplies of renewing, strengthening, and sanctifying grace unto us, that we may live unto him in all holy obedience, and be able to get the victory over our temptations. Under this apprehension do believers approach unto God in the ordinances of his worship. They come unto them as the means of God’s communication unto their souls. Hence they cleave unto them with delight, so far as their affections are renewed. So the spouse testifieth of herself, “I sat down under his shadow with great delight” (Song 2:3). In these ordinances is the protecting, refreshing presence of Christ. This she rested in with great delight.
3. As they come unto them with these designs and expectations, so they have experience of the spiritual benefits and advantages which they receive by them, which more and more engageth them unto them in their affections with delight.
All these things, those who have a change wrought in their affections, but not a spiritual renovation, are strangers unto. They neither have the design before mentioned in coming to them, nor the experience of this efficacy now proposed in their attendance on them. But these benefits are great: as, for instance, when men find the worth and effect of the word preached on their souls, in its enlightening, refreshing, strengthening, transforming power; when they find their hearts warmed, their graces excited and strengthened, the love of God improved, their desponding spirits under trials and temptations relieved, their whole souls gradually more and more conformed unto Christ; when they find themselves by it extricated out of snares, doubts, fears, temptations, and brought unto satisfaction and rest – they cannot but delight in the dispensation of it, and rejoice in it as the food of their souls.
And it is a great hinderance unto the increase of spiritual life, and obstruction unto fruitfulness, thankfulness, and consolation, when we are negligent in our meditation about the benefits that we receive by the word and the advantages which we have thereby; for whilst it is so with us, we can neither value the grace of God in granting us this inestimable privilege nor perform any duty with respect unto it in a right manner.
This renders it an especial object of our affections as spiritually renewed. That secret love unto, and heavenly delight in, the statutes and testimonies of God, which David expresseth in Psalm 119, arose from the spiritual benefit and advantage which he received by them, as he constantly declares.
And the sole reason, on the other hand, why men grow so careless, negligent, and cold, in their attendance unto the preaching of the word, is because they have no experience of any spiritual benefit or advantage by it. They have been brought unto it by one means or another – mostly by conviction of their duty; their minds have been variously affected with it, unto a joy in the hearing of it and readiness unto sundry duties of obedience: but after a while, when a sense of those temporary impressions is worn off, finding no real spiritual benefit by it, they lose all delight in it, and become very indifferent as to its enjoyment. The frame which such persons at length arrive unto is described in Mal 1:13 and Mal 3:14.
None can give any greater evidence of the decay of all manner of grace in them, or of their being destitute of all saving grace, than when they apostatize from some degree of zeal for, and delight in, the dispensation of the word of God, into such a cursed indifferency as many are overtaken withal. It cannot be otherwise; for seeing this is a way and means of the exercise of all grace, it will not be neglected but where there is a decay of all grace; however men may please themselves with other pretences. And when they are thus ensnared, every foolish prejudice, every provocation, every wanton opinion and imagination, will confirm them in, and increase, their gradual backsliding.
And as it is with believers as unto the hearing of the word in general, so it is as unto the degrees of advantage which they find by it. When men have enjoyed the dispensation of the word in a peculiar manner, spiritual and effectual, if they can be content to forego it for that which is more cold and lifeless, provided it possesseth the same time and outward form with the other, it is no great evidence that their souls prosper. It is therefore those alone who have a sense of the efficacy of the word on their souls and consciences unto all the holy ends of it, who cleave unto it with spiritual love and delight. They continually remember what holy impressions it bath made on them, what engagements it hath brought their souls into, what encouragements unto faith and obedience it hath furnished them withal, and [they] long after [the] renewed sense of its enjoyment. When we do not find in ourselves this foundation of spiritual delight in the dispensation of the gospel, we can have no great evidence that our affections are renewed.
So also it is in the duties of prayer and meditation. When the soul of a believer hath had experience of the communion which it hath had with God in them, or either of them; of the spiritual refreshment which it hath had from them; of the benefits and mercies which are obtained by them, in recovery from temptations, snares, despondencies, in victory over sin and Satan, in spiritual impressions, working it into a holy, watchful frame, which hath abode in it in other ways and occasions; with the like advantages wherewith fervent and effectual prayer and sincere heavenly meditation are accompanied — it cannot but have love unto them and delight in them.
But if indeed we have no experience of these things, if we find not these advantages in and by these duties, they cannot but be a burden unto us, nor do serve unto any other end but to satisfy convictions. He who had the benefit of a serene and wholesome air in a recovery from many diseases and distempers, with the preservation of his health so obtained, will love it and prise it; and so will he these duties who hath been partaker of any of those saving mercies and privileges wherewith they are accompanied.
Some have been delivered from the worst of temptations, and the nearest approach of their prevalency (as to destroy themselves), by a sudden remembrance of the frame of their souls and the intimations of God’s love in such or such a prayer, at such a time. Some have had the same deliverance from temptations unto sin; when they have been carried away under the power of their corruptions, and all circumstances have concurred under the apprehensions of it, a sudden thought of such a prayer or meditation, with engagement they made of themselves therein unto God, hath caused all the weapons of sin to fall out of its hands, and all the beauties of its allurements to disappear.
When others have been under the power of such despondencies and disconsolations as that no present tenders of relief can approach unto them, they have been suddenly raised and refreshed by the remembrance of the intimate love and kindness between Christ and their souls that hath evidenced itself in former duties. Multitudes, in fears, distresses, and temptations, have found relief unto their spirits and encouragement unto their faith in the remembrance of the returns they have had unto former supplications in the like distresses. These are grounds of spiritual delight in these duties.
Heartless, lifeless, wordy prayers, the fruit of convictions and gifts, or of custom and outward occasions, however niultiplied, and whatever devotion they seem to be accompanied with, will never engage spiritual affections unto them. When these things are absent, when the soul hath not experience of them, prayer is but a lifeless form, a dead carcass, which it would be a torment unto a soul spiritually alive to be tied to.
There may be a season, indeed, when God will seem to hide himself from believers in their prayers, so as they shall neither find that life in themselves which they have done formerly, nor be sensible of any gracious communications from him; but this is done only for a time, and principally to stir them up unto that fervency and perseverance in prayer as may recover them into their former or a better estate than yet they have attained to. The like may be said concerning all other duties of religion, or ordinances of divine worship.
4. Believers, whose affections are spiritually renewed, do delight greatly in the duties of divine worship, because they are the great instituted way whereby they may give glory unto God.
This is the first and principal end of all duties of religion as they respect divine appointment – namely, to ascribe and give unto God the glory that is his due; for in them all acknowledgment is made of all the glorious excellencies of the divine nature, our dependence on him and relation unto him. And this is that which, in the first place, believers design in all the duties of divine worship.
And the pattern set us by our blessed Saviour, in the prayer he taught his disciples, directs us thereunto. All the first requests of it concern immediately the glory of God, and the advancement thereof; for therein also all the blessedness and safety of the church are included.
Those who fail in this design do err in all that they do; they never tend unto the mark proposed unto them. But this is that which principally animates the souls of them that believe in all their duties; this their universal relation unto him, and love in that relation, makes necessary.
Wherefore, that way and means whereby they may directly and solemnly ascribe and give glory unto God is precious and delightful unto them; and such are all the duties of divine worship. These are some of the things wherein the respect of affections spiritually renewed unto ordinances and duties of divine worship doth differ from the actings of affections toward the same object which are not so sanctified and renewed.
There are yet other things, accompanied with the same evidence of the difference between affections spiritually renewed and those which have only a general change wrought in them by convictions and some outward occasions, which must in one or two instances more be insisted on, with the consideration of such cases as derive from them; for my design herein is not only to declare when our minds are spiritually renewed, but also what is the nature and operation of our affections whereby we are constituted and denominated “spiritually minded,” which is the subject of our whole inquiry. Herein, then, we shall proceed.