An Antidote Against Distractions in Worship by Richard Steele (1629-1692)Articles on Puritan Worship and the Regulative Principle
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An Antidote AGAINST DISTRACTIONS: OR, An Indeavour to serve the Church, in the daily Case of WANDRINGS in the Worship of GOD.
By Richard Steele M. A. and Minister of the Gospel.
Judges 16:15, “How canst thou say, I love thee, when thy heart is not with me?
Psalm 119:10, “With my whole heart have I sought thee.”
O let me not wander—Basil. con. 9. de Oratione.
Bernard. de inter. Domo. c. 29.33.
Non cogitando cogito, cogitata recogito, & eadem iterum iterumque replicare non cesso, — in choro sum corpore, & in aliquo negotio mente — Aliud canto, & aliud cogito, psalmodiae verba profero, & psalmodiae sensum non attendo: vae mihi, quoniam ibi pecco, ubi peccata emendare debeo.
Printed for Elizabeth Calvert, at the Black-spread Eagle in Barbican.
TO THE Most Holy TRINITY.
These first fruits I humbly lay at thy blessed footstool, being ambitious of no other Patron but Thy self; for, Thou alone canst attest the sincerity of my aim herein, which will plead with Thee for the imbecillities thereof: Thou alone art the right Author of every valuable line and word in this ensuing Tract. The Errata’s only are mine, but the Honour’s Thine. Thou hast the strongest hand, and truest heart to protect, both the Writing and the Writer from all the malicious or unkind usage, that we may meet with. Thy approbation chiefly I humbly crave, and then I am sure to have all good men on my side. Against Thee, Thee only have I offended by my Distractions, and done these evils in Thy sight; and therefore am bound to seek the destruction of them, in all the world for Thy sake. Thou hast so infinitely obliged the unworthy Writer of these lines, that he rejoyces in this opportunity to tell the world, That there is none in Heaven or Earth to be compared to Thee. Thou only canst make my Indeavours herein succesful, and bring that to the heart, which I could only present to the ear or eye. Vnto Thee therefore do I dedicate both this and my self, with this earnest Prayer, That this Essay may both please Thee, and profit thy Church! That Thou wouldest take this Rod into Thy hands, and therewith whip these buyers and sellers out of Thy Temple! That Thy great Name may hereby be magnified, though the Writers were never known! To Thy heavenly blessing, do I most humbly recommend this mean work, and worthless workman, with a Resolution to remain, while I have any Being,
Thine own Richard Steele.
To the serious Reader, especially the first Hearers thereof.
YOU have here an Antidote against the most common distemper of God’s people in his Worship. My own disease caused me to study the cure; the general complaint of good people against these Egyptian Flies, moved me to preach it; and the common good of God’s Church (not without solicitations thereto) hath now perswaded me to publish it. Be not offended, that so much is written of so minute a point; greater Tracts of the Fever, Stone, or Tooth-ach (whereby they might be certainly cured) would not be thought too long, by such as are sick thereof. Indeed, this had never seen the light, but that the disease is so general and that so few, if any, that have throughly, and on purpose handled it. However, this may serve (as the Learned L. Verulam hath it) to awake better spirits, and to do the Bell-ringer’s office, who is first up, to call others to Church. This being my first Essay, riper Judgements will (I believe) observe divers defects and superfluities therein, but Candour is a common debt, which we all owe one to another; and one poor mite may be accepted by men, when two mites can please Christ himself. It is my Request To you especially, that were the first Hearers hereof, that ye be not Hearers or Readers only, but Doers of the Word. The world knows, you have been constant hearers, let the world see, that you are careful doers. The indubitable truths and duties, that I have still laid before you, will undoubtedly convert you, or else undoubtedly condemn you; and therefore I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, that ye receive not the Grace of God in vain. For now I live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. And my earnest request for you, is, that Divine Power may accompany Divine Precepts. If you reap any benefit, let God have all the praise, and put the poor Instrument into some corner of your prayers. I have chosen a dialect and phrase familiar, for the advantage of the matter, rather than the applause of the Writer, being contented to be ranked among those, qui non secundum artem scripserunt, sed secundum gratiam; you will excuse the unevenness of the stile, and other imperfections, when you understand that I had more studies than books in the composing hereof, being distant from my Library, and variously distracted in the writing about Distractions. But my aim being a solid cure, not a starcht discourse, I have chosen a Divinity dress, and not preached my self [who am the chief of sinners] but Christ Iesus my Lord [the chief of Goods] and my self
Your Servant for Iesus sake, R. S.
May 10. 1667.
Sect. 1. THe Text propounded.
Sect. 2. An Observation.
Sect. 3. The words of the Text opened.
The Doctr. It is a Christians duty to attend upon the Lord without Distractions.
Sect. 4. A Distraction described.
Sect. 1. The kinds of Distractions distinquished.
From the Fountain of them.
The Outward Senses.
Sect 2. 2. By the Master whereof they consist.
Being Good, Bad, Indifferent.
Sect. 3. 3. By the Adjuncts of them.
Sect 1. That it is our duty to attend upon the Lord without Distractions. Proved, 1. From the Possibility of it, by four Arguments.
Sect 2. 2. From the Necessity of it.
To the Being of a Duty.
To Comfort in a Duty.
To the Prosperity of a Duty.
To Communion with Christ in a Duty.
Sect. 1. Reasons of the Doctrine.
From the Nature of God.
His 1. Greatness.
Sect. 2. 2. From the Nature of his Worship.
Being 1. Reasonable.
Sect. 3. 3. From the Nature of our Condition here.
We cannot live without God.
Our only way of communion is by Ordinances.
All our heart and strength is too little for this work.
Sect. 4. 4. From the Nature of Distractions.
They divide the Heart.
They frustrate the Duty.
They contract more Guilt.
Sect. 1. Objections answered.
About its Impossibility.
Sect. 2. 2. About its Difficulty.
Sect. 3. 3. From their Commonness.
Sect. 4. 4. From Gods accepting the will for the deed.
CHAP. VI. The Causes of Distractions in God’s Worship.
Sect. 1. 1. Secret Atheism.
A Remedy thereof.
Sect. 2. 2. The corruption of our Nature.
Sect. 3. 3. Unpreparedness unto holy Duties.
A Case of Conscience answered, viz.
What measure of Preparation is necessary before our ordinary Duties of Worship.
Sect. 4. 4. Lukewarmness.
Sect. 5. 5. Worldy-mindedness.
Sect. 6. 6. Weakness of love to Christ and his Ordinances.
Sect. 7. 7. Want of Watchfulness.
The Remedy thereof.
Sect. 8. 8. A Beloved sin.
Sect. 9. 9. Satan.
Sect. 10. 10. Vain Thoughts at other times.
These 1. Displease and dis-ingage the Spirit of God.
Dispose and naturalize the soul to these Thoughts.
Discourage us to the conquest, and incourage us to the sin.
Infect the Memory.
Provoke God to give us up.
The Remedies hereof.
Sect. 11. 11. A divided heart in four respects.
Sect. 12. 12. An opinion that there is no great evil in them.
The Evil of Distractions
In their Nature.
Sect. 1. 1. They are sins against the first Table.
Sect. 2. 2. They are heart-sins.
Sect. 3. 3. They are sins in the special presence of God.
Sect. 4. 4. They are sins about the most serious business.
Sect. 5. 5. They are sins of hypocrisie.
In their Effects.
Sect. 6. 1. They alienate the heart from holy duties.
Sect. 7. 2. They much affront the Majesty of God.
Sect. 8. 3. They hinder the benefits of an holy duty.
Sect. 9. 4. They deprive the soul of comfort.
Sect. 10. 5. They grieve away the Holy Ghost.
The Cure of Distractions.
Sect. 1. 1. Dispel the Causes before specified.
Sect. 2. 2. Bewail your former failings herein.
Sect. 3. 3. Engage the Spirit of God in your assistance.
Sect. 4. 4. Believe the Presence of God.
Sect. 5. 5. Lay a Law upon your senses.
A Note about whispering during the Worship of God.
Sect. 6. 6. A watchful reflection and ejaculation.
Sect. 7. 7. Strength of Grace.
How it should be gotten.
Encouragements under the burden of Distractions.
Sect. 1. 1. They are consistent with Grace.
Sect. 2. 2. Your case is not singular.
Sect. 3. 3. Christs Intercession is without Distraction.
Sect. 4. 4. Distractions may make us humble.
Sect. 5. 5. God can make some sense out of such Prayers.
Sect. 6. 6. There is grace and strength in Christ to help against them.
Sect. 7. 7. A perfect riddance of them, is the Happiness of Heaven.
CHAP. X. Inferenes from this Doctrine.
Sect. 1. 1. We have •ause to mourn over our best duties.
Sect. 2. 2. Omissions of duties are extreme dangerous.
Sect. 3. 3. The grand Necessity of Watchfulness.
Hearing God’s Word.
Sect. 4. 4. Great cause to bless God for freedom from Distractions.
Sect. 5. 5. That Religion is an inward, difficult, and serious Business.
Reader, if you will read sense, you must first correct these more material mistakes of the Press: For points and accents, and some literal faults, common indulgence is desired.
PAge 2. line 22. read no part, p. 11. l. 9. r. smell, p. 24. Margin r. cedrenus—Phorbante, p. 25. l. ult. r. sincerity, p. 26. l. 13. after weak, r. child, p. 35. Marg. r. 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, p. 39. l. 8. r. Ordinance, p. 43. l. ult. r. every brea•h, p. 71. l. 3. r. subtlest, p. 86. Marg. r. nam si, p. 137. l. 18. r. disturb, p. 141. l. 4. r. caso, l. 13. r. meer, p. 148. l. 19. r. awake, p. 158. l. 8. blot out of, l. 23. r. stale, p. 163. Marg. r. that reads, p. 164. l. pe•ult. r. heavily, p. 165. l. 12. r. somewhere, p. 171. l. 2. r. our hearts, p. 172. l. 20. positively, p. 173. l. 9. r. poenitere, p. 193. l. penul•, r. these, p. 195. l. 17. blot out, all, p. 197. l. 19. r. nor••, p. 201. l. 18. blot out, as, p. 205. l. 4. r. insnare, l. 12. r. by, l. 26. r. displease, p. 207. l. 18. r. gadding, p. 218. l. 2. r. unison, p. 219. l. penult. r. tenth, p. 224. l. 21. r. 〈◊〉.
CHAP. I. The Text explained, The Doctrine proposed, and a Distraction described.
1 CORINTH. 7.35.
—That you may attend upon the Lord without Distraction.
THe Apostle is a Casuist in this Chapter, and the present Case is about Virginity and Marriage; wherein I. He determines for the former, [vers. 26.] when the Church was in the bonds of Persecution, it was not safe to be in the bond of Marriage. II. He prevents mistakes, [vers. 27, 28.] though the single man be fittest to suffer, yet there is neither that sin nor misery on the married, as to dissolve the sacred knot. III. He offers Reasons for this Resolve. 1. One, from the crosses and troubles then attending the state of Marriage, [vers. 28.] Thorns as well as Roses. 2. The other, from the Cares that alwaies accompany it [vers. 32.] For the Man, now is his heart divided. Before, if I can but please the Lord, and and contrive how to live comfortably with my God ; this is all my care and ambition. Now, the stream of my thoughts and affections is parted; I must please and provide for my Wife, [vers. 32, 33.] For the Woman, now is her task doubled. Before, her whole aim was to please her Husband in Heaven. Now must her designs and respects be for her earthly Husband also. [vers. 34] Not that these several Relations are inconsistent, but to provide for these new Duties and Temptations will distract the mind, especially in the daies of Tryal. :: IV. He qualifies his Counsel, and explains himself, [vers. 35.] It is no• part of my meaning, either to obtrude the Doctrine or Duty of Coelibate upon you, that to avoid a strait, you should run upon a sin; but my motion is, 1. For your profit; my office, and so my counsel is rather to profit, than to please you, 2. There is a comeliness or conveniency in it; both states are alwaies lawful, but the one may sometimes be more convenient. And 3. My ultimate design is, that you may chuse that state, wherein you may best Attend upon the Lord without Distraction. This the occasion and tendency of these words.
FRom the general import of these words flows this Annotation,
That condition should be chosen by all, that’s best for their souls. Your outward condition must serve your inward condition; and this life must be subservient to another life. If single-life do every way better qualifie you, to serve the Lord, and save your souls, this is the best life for you; and if Marriage be better for your souls, no state is better.
For if the soul prosper, All prospers; and if tha• miscarry, All’s lost. If to be a Prince were dangerous for the soul, ’twere better to be a Beggar: If a poor state do enrich the soul, it is the best estate.
This needs not to be proved unto Christians, that will be granted by Heathens? some of whom have so powerfully discoursed of the immortality and excellency of the soul, that their Auditors have posted to death by self-destruction, for the happy state thereof. If Pagans would chuse to dye, as a condition best for the soul, well may we chuse that condition of life, which best serves the soul; lest those Acts which were unable to justifie them, prove able to condemn us with a witness.
Let this Axiom come in, when you are disposing your children or your selves; being confident, when you are most sollicitous about the soul, God will be most careful for the body, and you will meet with least distress, when you flee the least Distraction.
THe words of the Text present us with a Design, that Believers as often aim at, and yet miss, as any in the World; and which is so excellent a rare attainment, that the Holy Ghost even makes two words on purpose to express it by, no where else found in the New-Testament; (a)To Attend on the Lord without Distraction. Hierome confesseth that the Latine can hardly express the Emphasis of the Greek in this clause, and that thereupon it was wholly omitted in the Latine books. In the words we must consider,
- The Matter What, [Attend upon the Lord.]
- The Manner how, [Without Distraction.]
- The Matter what, [Attend upon the Lord] The Greek word for [Attend] in our Copies hath a notable elegancy in it. 1. That you may be (b)Fit and ready for Gods Service, That Religion and religious Duties may sit fitly on you, that you may be ready to serve the Lord in Duty or Suffering. A most sweet frame of soul, to be alwayes bent and strung for the Service of God. That man is meet for the Masters use, that is prepared unto every good work, 2 Tim. 2.21. How many choice opportunities for instruction, for reproof, for charity, for prayer do we hazard, yea and lose for want of a Soul quick and ready to our duty. 2. That you may be (c)Fix• and setled in his Service. The word intimates such an (d) inseparable cleaving, such a marriage of the mind to the work of God, that we have in hand, as can by no means suffer a divorce. It should be as hard a matter, to break off the heart from God in his service, being married to him, and setled in holy duties, as it is to abstract the misers soul from the world, to which it is glued.
- The Manner how, [Without Distraction] The sense hereof is almost prevented, by the Emphasis of the former word. Yet this Word is not without its great weight: And it speaks a (e)quiet unshaken and immoveable frame of Soul, which cannot be whirled about with vain trifles. The soul is never at that holy quiet, as when it is directly ascending and communing with the Lord; and therefore Satan exceedingly envies this Coelestial happiness of the Saints, and if he cannot distract them from duty, be sure he will distract them in it; and this he doth very much (f) by the World and the business thereof. And therefore (sayes the Apostle) guide your condition so, in this suffering season, as that it may not misguide your hearts, in your attendance on the Lord; that you may not attend on your selves, nor on others; but (g) on Him, who is the Centre of an Ordinance, and your All in All.
Take the sum of all in this Assertion, the main Doctrine from the Text.
It is a Christians Duty to attend on the Lord without Distractions.
And that I may from this Text and Doctrine profitably handle the Case, and attempt the Cure of Distractions, I shall proceed to shew these things, 1. The Nature of a Distraction. 2. The Kinds of Distractions. 3. That it is our Duty to attend upon the Lord without Distr•ctions. 4. The reasons why we must attend on the Lord without Distractions. 5. Answer the Objections. 6. Describe the Causes of Distractions. 7. The Evil of them. 8. The Cure of them. 9. Propound some encouragements under the burden of Distractions. 10 Draw some Inferences from this Doctrine. And first of the first, viz. the nature of a Distraction.
THE first Head will be to describe a Distraction. A Distraction is a secret wandring of the Heart from God, in some Duty in hand.
- It is a wandring, As the remisness of our Devotion shoots short, so Distraction shoots awry. ‘Tis said, Prov. 27.8. As a bird that wandereth from his nest, so is a man from his place. Its commonly known, the ready way to destroy the young in the shell, is discontinuance of heat; and to wander from our heavenly work, produces the dead off-spring of unprofitable Duties. It would be almost as easie to trace and follow the Bird in her vagaries, as the volatile and intricate imaginations of the heart :: It is a digression: you that are curious to observe the Minister in his digressions; how much more necessary is it to observe your own?
- It is secret, in the Heart. And this contracts the guilt and nature of Hypocrisie upon a Distraction; for we have a short and clear description of hypocrisie, which agrees too well with distractions. Matth, 15.7, 8. This People draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me. To have a bended knee, a craving eye, are choice Expressions of Duty: but without the Impressions and attendance of the heart, are double iniquity and flat hypocrisie. How empty would our Congregations be sometimes, if no more bodies were present, than there are souls: And what abundance of sorry service hath our God, that no body sees?
Yet how unknown soever these triflings of the mind are to others, or to our selves, yet are they most palpable to the Lord, who sets our most secret sins in the clearest light of his Countenance; and though these primo-primi motus may antevert the use of Reason, and therefore seem small Peccadillo’s yet they fall under the rebuke of Religion; and are as sinfull as they are secret: Good in secret is the best Goodness; and secret sinfulness, the worst sinfulness.
- This wandering of the Heart is from God, for God is the Object of Worship. To pray aright is, Zech. 8.21. To pray before the Lord. To give thanks aright is, Dan. 6.10. To give thanks before his God, not in his sight only, for so you are, when your hearts are worst; but they did look on God when they spake to him, as we do look on men, when we speak to them. Melancthon sayes, he hath heard Luther in his secret prayers so pray, that one would verily think, there were some body in the room with him to whom he spake.
- This wandring is, while some Duty is in hand, to desert Duty is Nihil agere, to do divine duties to Diabolical ends is Male agere, to divert the Soul is Aliud agere. Hoc age must be the Christians motto, in the Worship of God. That was a good answer, Neh. 6.3. of Nehemiah to his false friends, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down, Why should the work cease while I leave it and come down to you? He that is in a Duty to God, is about a very great work, And that work stands, or goes backward every moment the heart is away; and why should a temporal vanity set back, and perhaps quite unravel your eternal concernment? How will that Spartan youth rise up in judgement against us, that holding the Censer during Alexanders Heathen Sacrifices, would not stir his hand from its duty; though the burning coals fell thereon, and made his flesh to fry and s•ell in the presence of all the Spectators?
CHAP. II. The Kinds of Distractions.
THE second Head will be to take a view of the kinds or sorts of our Distractions, And they are Diversified, 1. From the Fountain whence they flow. 2. From the matter whereof they Consist. 3. From their Adjuncts. For the first of them, you will find
- Many of our Distractions may justly be fathered on the Devil. He is a spiritual substance, and is most properly conversant in spiritual sins; He is compleatly skild in all thoughts whatsoever, and therefore what he imparts here, is of his own. Zech. 3.1. The High-Priest Joshua could not be at his Prayers for the Israel of God, but as Christ the Angel of the Covenant was on one hand, Satan was standing on the other, and he was got at the readier hand the right hand, the hand of action, that he might hinder him more dextrously in his Devotion. When we are most serious before the Angel, The Devil is whispering at our Elbow, and who can be dull and watchless, when God is on one hand, and Satan on the other?
The Devil is afraid of a serious lively prayer at his heart; he knows, That can pull down in a minute, what he hath been contriving a thousand years; and therefore if he cannot withhold us from holy Duties, he will do his utmost to disturb us in them. Hence the vision of that Holy man who in the whole market saw but one Devil busie, (for there Self was at hand, Satan had no need to bestir him) but in the Congregation there were multitudes of them, all their skill and power being little enough to stave off poor souls from Iesus Christ. Alas! we pray, and hear, and live as securely, as if there were no Devil at all.
And His suggestions in Religious duties are usually more violent and impetuous, more dreadfull and impious than they of our own breeding; called therefore Darts, and fiery Darts of that wicked one; Though he lay these brats of his at thy door, yet they will be counted in the number of his sins, and of thy afflictions.
. Our Distractions proceed from the mind and understanding. The Vanity of the mind alienates us from the life of God, and from communion with him. When a present and seasonable petition or instruction is conveyed through the ear into the understanding, It wantonly playes therewith, and taks occasion to run out on some contiguous notion, and from that to another, and at length rests and dwells on some alien and unseasonable point, till the gales of the good Spirit, and the present Matter be overpast. And thus by a default in the understanding we seek not God, nor find him as we might; And that excellent faculty, that would penetrate into the Divine Mysteries, and should guide the will and heart unto God, by the Ignis fatuus of its unmortified Vanity, misleads us from the chief Good, and intangles us in distractions. We read 2 Cor. 7.1. Of a filthiness of the Spirit, whereof surely this is a part, and must be cleansed in them, that will perfect holiness in the fear of God.
- Some Distractions proceed from the Fancy, a most busie faculty, that’s most unruly and least sanctified in an Holy man. Sometimes by the help of memory, stepping back into things past, she brings into the most solemn worship a thousand passages that are past and gone, and rowling them in the head, carryes soul and all quite away from God: hence it is, you often hear the say, such a thing came into my mind at Sermon or Prayer that was forgotten weeks or months before: yea daring to re-act former sins by contemplative wickedness in the very sight of God, which doubles the guilt of repetition, and makes your former sins (a) exceeding sinfull. In this sense that Eccles. 6.9. is true, Better is the sight of the eyes, than the wandring of the Desire; there is something more of evil in these second contemplations, than in the first Commissions. Sometimes the Fancy will create a world of figments and notions out of nothing, and multiply impertinent thoughts upon no ground and to no purpose; and can sally out of the present matter to every adjacent business, and make a great ado to bring nothing to pass. Job 27.8. There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the Vultures eye hath not seen, the fancy can find out such a way; thus God is not in all (hardly in any of) our thoughts, when we pretend to treat him with the greatest solemnity.
And sometimes the Fancy breeds Distractions by fore-casting things to come (b): So many a man can most easily, on the Sabbath, contrive his business for all the Week after; and the poor woman in the corner of a Prayer order the business of all the house for a day. Hence may an affair is cursed to our hands, by our unhappy contrivance thereof in the time of worship. Thus we have some saying (in their hearts no doubt) Amos 8.5. When will the New Moon be gone, that we may sell Corn; and the Sabbath, that we may set forth Wheat? And it is well, if they have no fellows in this Assembly that are making their Hay, measuring their Corn, counting their Coyn, if not providing for their Lusts, while they seem earnest with the Lord negotiating for Eternity.
- Our Distractions in Gods Worship are sometimes occasioned by our outward(c)Senses. Most frequently by the Eye; a wandring Eye mostly hath a wandring Heart; for when the Eye discovers any new, pleasing, or ridiculous object, it presently brings news thereof unto the Heart; and that debates and studies upon it, to the grieving of Gods Spirit, and cooling of our own: and when that is over, a fresh sight presents it self, and the Eye is ready for that again, and leads the Heart into a maze of Follies. We read, Lam. 3.51. My Eye affecteth my Heart, because of all the Daughters of the City, that’s with grief for their Calamity. their is a reciprocal working it seems; the Heart at first affects the Eye, and the Eye can affect the Heart with Grief: Even in like manner, when the Sons or Daughters of the City enter the Assembly, the (d) Eye affects the. Heart; stirs, diverts, kindles the Heart; and the Heart corrupts, stains, and transmits its follies by the Eye; the precious Soul (that while) suffering between them, and the holy God and his Service wofully slighted.
You resolve in this duty, I will not swerve from God, nor step aside into the least Distraction; but you bolt the door, and let your Enemy in at the window (e). The thoughts that are shut out at the Street door, steal in at the back door, if you do not as well make a Covenant with your Eyes, as keep your Feet, when you enter into the House of God. In this sense the Woman and Man also, had need of the Covering of an holy and constant Watch, because of the Angels; the wicked Imps of Hell, that ride abroad in the air, to carry away our Hearts from God.
SEcondly, Distractions are distinguished by the matter whereof they consist; which is sometimes,
- Good. It is Satans ambition and triumph, when he can affront God with his own matters; As to bring in shreds of Sermons in the heat of Prayer; and long passages which you have read, to keep out material points, that you should be hearing: He will hold your Husbands Picture before you, while you should look on your Husbands face, and at length delude you with Shadows instead of Substance. A good thing in its nature, may become a bad thing in its use, when it is out of season. Jewels mis-placed may grow worthless; a Diamond on the Finger is an Ornament, but in the Bladder a Torment: And God dislikes his own things in the Devil’s way, little less than the Devil’s things themselves.
As when one is playing in consort, (it is Mr. White’s comparison) if we stay on any Note, while they who play the other parts go on; that which at first made excellent harmony, becomes now harsh, and spoils the Musick: So those thoughts that were sweet and musical, while they were suitable and pertinent to thy prayer, become harsh by dwelling unseasonably upon them.
- Sometimes our wandrings are made up of things Indifferent in themselves; and these things by miss-timing them, are debauched, and made very evil and offensive unto God. As to talk with, or to see a Friend, is in it self indifferent; but to perform this in the heat of Harvest, may be folly. There are an hundred harmless thoughts both of things and persons, which crowding into the sacred presence of God, and interposing between the Soul and its Maker, while the matters of Eternity are debating and concluding, is a great offence, and deserve to be whipt, and posted, and sent away.
. The matter of them somtimes is absolutely Bad, proud, wanton, malicious Thoughts: Blasphemous thoughts, as whether God is, when we are praying to him, and the like. Able to sink us at any time, but sins of a double dye in the Worship of God; because there the special and piercing Eye of God is upon us: As Theft therefore is penal in all places, by reason of its intrinsecal evil, much more criminal is it, before a Judge in the Court: Even so are these thoughts guilty and base any where, but when they shall dare to intrude into the presence of the Judge of Heaven and Earth, as it were daring a jealous God, this is prodigious Sin, and greatly provokes him. So Ezek. 33.31. They come unto me as the People cometh, and they sit before me as my People; with their mouths they shew much love, but their Heart goeth after their Covetousness. What more sweet than a religious Mouth? What more bitter than a covetous Heart? Especially when the Heart goeth out after Covetousness, pursues and follows it in the sight of God: Oh dreadful! God, he is pursuing and following the Sinner with Christ and Mercy in his Arms, and the Sinner (the while) with his very Heart, is going after his Sin. And thus that House which God calls the House of Prayer, we make a Den of Lust, Malice, Covetousness, and Sin.
THirdly, Distractions are distinguished by their Adjuncts. For,
- Some are sudden. As the Church, Cant. 6.12. Or ever I was aware, my Soul made me like the Chariots of Aminadab; and happy is that Soul, that is so sweetly and suddenly carried after Iesus Christ. So sometimes our treacherous Soul, ere we know or are aware of it, makes us like those hasty Chariots; which misery comes about through want of watchfulness, which like a Porter should keep the door, and turn all straglers away: A thought is a sudden motion, and by it we may quickly step into Heaven or Hell; Now these Thoughts do steal in so suddenly, that we fall to muse how they came in, by what door they entred, and so are intangled in more Distractions by tracing the former, and commit new Errors by discovering the old.
But now other wandrings are more premeditate, & whereinto the soul falls more leisurely, and wallows therein either of choice, or without much interruption; & these have much more guilt and mischief in them.
- Some Distractions are Unwilling, quite praeter intentionem agentis ; when the Heart like a good Archer aims directly at Communion with the Lord; aims at this, but Satan or his Corruptions jog him at the elbow, and make him to miss the mark. This indeed is a sad disappointment, for a Noble Soul to embrace the Dunghil instead of the Sun of Righteousness; for a man to lose those sweet words and minutes which might be had with God; it is a sad mischance indeed, but which is common with man, wherein if the Soul cry out as the forced Virgin, Deut. 22.27. it shall not be imputed to her, especially when there was neither previous provocation, nor subsequent consent. And this is the case of blasphemous thoughts, which are like Lightning cast into a Room, which carries horrour, but springs from no cause thereof in the Room: So these thoughts come in upon thee, amaze and terrifie, surprize thee against thy will: But be of good Comfort; neither leave off thy Duties, (thy Prayers will do thee more good, than these can do thee harm) nor hasten from them to gratifie Satan; for if God be not able to protect thee in the discharge of thy duty, it’s time to think of another Master; but complain of Satan to God, parly not with them, but divert thy thoughts, and cry up that God the more, whom he tempts thee to blaspheme.
But others are willing Distractions, which are the ordinary effect of an unspiritual and unprepared Heart: To such an Heart the whole Duty is a Distraction: When a vain and earthly Soul like a truant Scholar, keeps out of his Masters sight out of choice, and with content, and is any where better than at his Lesson: What little Rest would such a Soul find in Heaven? Or what true delight can he take in the most holy presence of God above, that can find no rest and sweetness in his presence below?
- Again, some Distractions are long, and do consist of a concatenation of vain thoughts, when they do lodge in the heart. The Lord still calling at the door, and saying, How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee? These do much alter the complexion of the Soul, and argue too deep an habit of vanity therein. It is a true saying, Though we cannot hinder the Birds from flying over our heads, yet we may disturb their roosting or making Nests in our hair. So though we cannot well hinder the sudden suggestion of a vain thought, yet we may trouble its quiet resting in the Soul. Yet such strange subtilty is there in us, that we can keep God in play a long time (yea when our selves are employed in a Prayer) and be tampering with the world or sin all the while, the soul never coming in, till the Amen of a Prayer do awaken us . But other Distractions are but short, only a step out of the way, and in again, and the soul catcheth the faster hold of God. And indeed when the soul doth follow hard after God (as every one should do in his service.) though it stumble, as it often happens to the most earnest in the way, yet it recovers to its advantage, being more zealous after; The fall of the former being like that of the Swine, who lyes still in her mire; The fall of the latter, like the Sheep that falling riseth, and runs the faster. And thus you have seen the several kinds of Distractions, which was the second general Head.
CHAP. III. To Attend on the Lord without Distraction, is our Duty.
IN the third place I shall prove, that to Attend upon the Lord without Distraction is our Duty, which will clearly follow by demonstrating, 1. The Possibility of it. 2. The Necessity of it.
First, It is Possible thus to serve our God: the sluggard, it is true, finds a Lyon in his way to every Duty, and nothing is possible, because nothing is welcome. There is no Duty so easie, but can pose the negligent; none so hard, but is facile through Divine grace to the diligent. Perfection herein I assert not, but that we may attain it, in the substance and security thereof is proved.
. From the Precept of God, The wise and merciful God commands nothing, but he finds or makes it possible; He most truly sayes, Viam aut inveniam aut faciam. His commands are not snares but Rules, yea and Helps. When a Master commands, power and assistance waite not on his Commands; the Servants strength must perform the Masters will: but here are the commands of a Father, which when they outstrip his childs strength, are still accompanied with his own assistance; and the chair which the weak cannot bring in, he helps to fetch himself. Now behold the Divine Precept, 1 Sam. 12.24. Serve him in Truth with all your Heart. What truth is there, while we appear to serve the Lord, and indeed do not think upon him at all! Or how is that with all the Heart, while there is not half, nor any thereof many times! while we can pray, and plot, and think, and look, and begin our Devotion only at the end of the Duty. Our merciful Father will not impose an impossible Law upon us. It may by accident become impossible, but it is not so in it self.
. In regard of the Power of God it is possible. Ours is the Duty, but his is the strength. God and his servant can do any thing. When you look on a hard task, and your heart fails you, advance your eye of Faith, and you will find God the strength of your heart, Phil. 4.13. I can do all things through Christ that strengthneth me; loe here the omnipotency of a worm! If all things, (that is all my duty) then this among the rest. But you will say, This was an Apostle, a Person of great strength and Grace: yet still the Acts were from the man, but the Strength was from Christ; for the same person saith, 2 Cor. 3.5. Not that we are sufficient of our selves to think any thing as of our selves, but our sufficiency is of God. Who though he be at the same time Terrible out of his holy places, and darts his Curses on them that do his work negligently, yet the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power to his People, Blessed be God, Psal. 68.35. He gives, that is, he is ready to give it out, but alas his stock lyes almost dead by him; and none sues to him in good earnest. His Power is at your service, and therefore serve your selves of it.
. In regard of the Promise of God, This is Possible. To every command there is a Promise . The command finds us work, the Promise •inds us strength. As to this, some think that clause in our Magna Charta, Ezek. 11.19. of One Heart is intended this way; wherein the Lord promiseth an united heart to his servants. An hypocrite hath more hearts than one, an heart for his pleasures, an heart for his pride, here and there his affections are stragling, now saith God I will give one heart. There is another Promise, Jer. 32.40. I will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from me; neither in whole nor in part, unless fault be in your selves. Now these promises are Amen in Christ, and do belong to every soul that is in Christ; who may claim and have the benefit of them.
- Add hereunto the Experience of many servants of God, who by an habit of holy watchfulness, have attained to considerable strength against these Wandrings. Hope of relief makes many complain of their Distractions, when fear of Pride hinders them from divulging their attainments; And that which by the grace of God is possible for others, with the same grace is possible for you.
SEcondly, It is necessary, and therefore no doubt our duty to Attend on God without Distractions. It not only may be done, but must be done, You will say, They are happy that can do it, but they may be safe enough that cannot; Thus the inside and substance of Religion is counted an high attainment, but not Duty. I shall shew therefore that this soul-attendance on the Lord is necessary.
- It is Necessary to the Essence or Being of the Duty; As the soul is necessary to the Being of a man, the body is no man, but a Corps without it; even so a solemn Duty with a wandring heart is but the Corps of a Duty. Lam. 3.41. Let us lift up OVR HEARTS with our hands to God in the Heavens. The elevation of the hands signifies nothing, without lifting up the heart with them. If prayer be the lifting up of the heart, what are words without the heart? A man may spend the same time and the same words, in a serious and in an heartless Duty, and yet the latter stand for nothing, for want of intenseness and attention. Isa. 64.7. There is none that calleth on thy name, because none stirreth up himself to take hold on thee. If a man come to the service of God and do not excite and stir up his soul to exercise grace, as a man will blow a dull fire; his faith, zeal and humility, if he do not blow them up, but suffer his Heart to run at randome, the holy God counts all the rest, as a Cypher without a figure it stands for nothing.
- It is necessary to comfort in the Duty. The service of God is a most sweet pot of ointment of a most refreshing odour, The gracious soul is refreshed therein, as in a bed of Spices. Distractions are the dead flies, Eccles. 10.1. that dropping into this sweet ointment, cause it to send forth a stinking savour, displeasing to God, and unpleasing to the soul. Where can the soul be better than with God? what sweeter company, than that which Angels keep; or pleasant imployment than conversing in Heaven? till a sort of wandring thoughts arise, and like a black cloud quite hide the sweet beams of that Sun of Righteousness from the soul, and then your comfort is gone. The sweetness of musick consists in its harmony, when the strings are out of tune, or untuneably toucht, it is but a harsh sound, there, is no musick: wandring thoughts are like strings out of tune, there is no musick in that Duty; the Holy Ghost goes away and likes it not; and the soul likes it not, is weary of it, there is no sweetness in that Duty. It is a tried Maxime, The more seriousness, the more sweetness; the neerer to God, the warmer and merrier is the soul, which inward comfort is some reward to the heart of a Christian, when his particular suit is denyed; so that IN keeping of Gods Commandments there is a great reward. The choicest of the Spirits sealing comforts, are bestowed in the lively service of God.
- It is necessary to the prosperity of a Duty. Psal. 66.18. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my Prayer. In Gods service the soul should be regarding God alone. If I regard a Corruption instead of Christ, If w•en some vain object presents it self, I turn my back on God to treat with vanity, the Lord will not hear me, nor regard me. We read 1 Sam. 1.13. of that gracious Hannah, that she spake in her heart, only her lips moved not, her voice was not heard; yet this wordless prayer did the business; Lip-labour, if no more, is but lost labour, The sweating and labouring of the heart prevails. The Lord our God hath a book of remembrance for them that think on his name, while he turns the deaf ear to them that cry Lord, Lord, and do not inwardly adore him. In short, thus saith the Lord God, Ezek. 14.4. Every man (Child or not Child) that setteth up his Idols in his heart— and cometh to the Prophet, (sits demurely before the Preacher) I the Lord will answer him that cometh, according to the multitude of his Idols. He that sets his heart on vanity, vanity shall be his recompense; If he will not affect his own Heart, he shall never affect mine. He that withdraws his Heart in asking, will find the Lord to withdraw his Hand in giving what he asks.
- It is necessary to communion with Iesus Christ in a Duty. Which though it be a Riddle to unregenerate men, yet is the very business and next end of the Worship of God; which if you lose, that Duty is lost. Jesus Christ calls, Cant. 2.14. O my Dove — let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice, for sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely. Now if, when he waits thus to be gracious, you wait not for his grace, and watch for the blessed appearances of the Holy Ghost, you will lose that happiness, you’l lose your labour, and at length your souls. How are you troubled, that you are abroad, when some good customer comes to your shop, It troubles you when that is bestowed with another, that was intended for you. O Sirs, the spirit of God is a good Customer, and when he comes and you are away, you are absent to your loss; and therefore keep at home the next time.
How unmannerly would it be for the Subject to knock at his Princes Chamber, and (knowing he is within, and waits for him) step away about some frivolous trifle, when he hath done? The Prince appears, opens his royall door, and calls; but the Clown is gone. How fairly may he shut his door against such a guest, and make him dance attendance long enough, before he see his face ? Ah how seldome do we see the face of God in an Ordinance, or much endeavour it? Psal. 63.8. My soul followeth hard after thee, The Hebrew is glued to thee. That soul and that alone that follows hard after God by the earnest intenseness of zeal and love, that cannot be content without him, that heart shall cleave to him, and have rare communion with him.
Thus you may plainly see, that to attend on the Lord without Distraction is a Duty, which is the Third Point to be handled.
CHAP. IV. Reasons why we ought to Attend on the Lord without Distraction.
THe fourth Point is to shew the Reasons for the Doctrine and Duty of Attending on the Lord without Distraction. And they are drawn 1. From the Nature of God. 2. From the Nature of his Worship. 3. From the Nature of our condition. 4. From the Nature of Distractions.
The first reason is taken from the Nature of God, each of his Attributes plead for this, especially,
- The greatness of God. The greater the Personage, the greater the Reverence, and the more solemn your attendance is. Hence Elihu cryes, Job 37.19. Teach us what we shall say to him, for we cannot order our speech by reason of darkness . It is a bold adventure to speak to him, what is it then to trifle with him? wilt thou speak to God, nay pray to God, and not so much as look that way when thou speakest to him? This is to put on him the robes and title of a King and use him like a slave. A Prince may converse with two or three of his servants at a time, but its Impudence for a servant to talk to two or three Princes at a time. The great Iehovah can speak with thee, and a thousand more, and do all your errands at a time, but alas! thou art too poor a worm, to entertain the great Iehovah, and other matters at once. We are his Creatures, Isa. 45.11. Thus saith the Lord the holy one of Israel and his Maker. If a servant must not be frivolous before his Master, when he is receiving his commands, who dares be so before his Maker, who can as easily reward or ruine us as I can turn over a leaf in this Bible? This Himself gives for the reason of that dreadful curse, Mal. 1.14. upon the Deceiver, that having a Male in his flock, offers to God a corrupt thing. For I am a great King saith the Lord of Hosts, and my name is dreadfull among the Heathen. Which of you will be thinking of your wives, or children, or ground, when you are offering a Petition to a great King, or run after Feathers, when he is saying his mind to you? Thou takest God to be such a one as thy self, or else thou wouldest never do it. Remember a great God must be worshipped with profound veneration, and the most serious affections. A man must worship God, as if he were in Heaven; Oh if thou wert there among those myriads of Saints and Angels, with what care, and humility, and instance, wouldest thou pour out thy heart to him, or hear his words to thee .
- The Holiness of God is another Reason, who is so sacred, that an unholy Thought is abomination to him; most especially in his holy Service. Who can by an eye of Faith behold the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up, and his train filling the Temple, And the Seraphinis crying one to another, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, Isa. 6.1, 2. and suffer his heart to be ravisht away with transitory toyes in such a Sacred presence? Are the Seraphims amazed at his holiness, and we untransported? Their thoughts are continually terminated upon him, And should ours be allwayes flinching from him? The Holy Lord of Hosts will not brook it. If you will not sanctifie him, he will sanctifie himself. If you that worship him, will not bear witness by your serious attendance to his Holiness, He must bear witness to it by his Judgements on You: which indeed are not allwayes visible, but ever certain; not a man in the Congregation, but the Holy God is Sanctified by him, or upon him. Little do we know, what invisible dreadfull effects there are of this, daily in our Congregations. And if our dear Redeemer did not stand as a skreen between us and his wrath, the best of us would quickly feel the effects of his Displeasure.
- The Omniscience of God is a valid reason against Distractions. Heb. 4.13. All things are naked and opened to him, with whom we have to deal, not only naked on the outside of us, but cut up and anatomised in the inside. That sharp and piercing eye looks through and through us, and neither doth or can look beside us. Whither can I goe from thy spirit? and whither can I flee from thy presence? shall the Husband fix his eye on his Wife, and she (that while) dart her glances on her Paramour? Is this reasonable or tolerable? Get out of his sight, and trifle on. Steal into some corner where he sees you not, and be truants and spare not. Be but an Eye-servant to God, and wee’l ask no more. Be serious while He sees you; dally not while he holds you the candle. A curious Eye requires a carefull servant
Object. But this is spoken gratis, I see no body but the Minister and People, seeing is believing, I know no body that seeth me.
Answ. 1. No more doest thou see that faculty by which thou seest. Is there therefore no such faculty? Is there no spirits, because thou never sawest them? when did you see the wind, and yet you doubt not of it. Nay hath not he declared to thee, what is thy thought, Amos 4.13. in many a Sermon?
- There is another eye by which Gods Ordinary-Presence is seen, which thou hast not. That is an eye of Faith, which if fixed in thy heart would quickly make thee cry, How dreadfull is this place? This is no other, than the house of God, and the Gate of Heaven. If an hundred credible persons affirm, they saw a Great man in the Congregation, you would believe them, though not seen by you, and would conclude it your own inadvertency. Hundreds there daily are, that do avouch, they saw, felt, heard, imbraced the gracious presence of God, and therefore conclude it your Blindness, not his Distance that you saw him not.
THE second Reason is taken from the Nature of his Worship,
- It is Reasonable Worship; not only consonant to the Rules of Reason, and backed by the most Rational Principles, but must be managed as a Rational Act. Now it is a most irrational thing to converse with God without an Heart; This is a silly thing, as Hos. 7.11. Ephraim is called a silly Dove, without Heart. A Dove, without spirit; and a silly Dove, without reason or judgement. God had rather hear the roaring of a Lyon, than an heartless prayer: He delights more in the chirping of birds, than in singing of Psalms without understanding; for these do what they can, and so are accepted, but bruitish service from a reasonable Creature is intolerable. Is it reason you should cry out for the spirit, and think on the flesh? be hearkning about another world, and ruminating on this? your eyes directed to Heaven, and your Heart in the ends of the Earth? the tongue busie, and the soul idle? the knee devout, and the thoughts loose? there is no coherence, no reason in this. When ye work, work, and when ye pray, pray, and do it with understanding, 1 Cor. 14.15. What it is then! I will pray with the spirit, and will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and will sing with the understanding also.::
Consider, that else thou art as a mad man before God, and God hath no need of mad men: if one should come to thee about business of life and death, and after a word or two therein, should run from one impertinent thing to another, would you not think him mad? If thy thoughts were put into words and mingled with thy prayers, what strange mad prayers would they be?
- It is spiritual-worship, and therefore you may not be distracted in it. Joh. 4.23, 24. The true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him. Others may seek to worship the Father, but the Father seeketh such to worship him, to wit, that worship in Spirit and in Truth, In Spirit, and so not like the formal Jews, In Truth, and so not like the ignorant Gentiles. And then vers. 24. God is a Spirit, and must be worshipped. Here’s Must and Shall, and Reason for it. As a spirit can do nothing at eating, so a carkass can do nothing at praying. The elegantest tongues on earth cannot take one stroak at prayer; no, the soul must be in it, and the soul must be busie too . If we had only an Idol to serve, the body were enough, but God is a spirit and cannot be conversed with without the spirit, yea and the whole spirit also. Fond man, that thinks with his narrow soul to deal with God and somewhat else, who alone is immense and beyond our greatest capacity. He must be taken up, and goe out of the world in a sense that will get into Heaven. The soul on the lip, and the soul in the ear, do rid work in the service of God.
- It is sweet work. Psal. 138.5. Yea, they shall sing in the wayes of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord: mark [shall sing] their spirits shall neither droop nor step aside. He that attends on the Lord hath a most sweet imployment: now the mind useth not to straggle at most rare musick, or under an enchanting song. Alexanders great soul, yet is said exilire è convivio under the charms of Musick. O the gracious presence of God! his sweet smiles! and blessed love-tokens, that can transport Angels, sure they may ingage the heart of man, and sufficiently fill it.
Read the Canticles and say then, Is not converse with God an Heaven upon Earth? and how far is Heaven from distracted thoughts? sad and severe things afflict the mind, It would flit from such subjects; but sweet imployment ingages all the heart: next dwelling in Heaven, is the soul flying to Heaven in an Ordinance; Our dryest Duties yield us least comfort: The nearer the Sun, the warmer. More close to God more sweet you’l find him, and never more joyfull than in the House of Prayer.
THe third reason is taken from the Nature of our Condition, and that is this,
- We cannot live without God. In him we live as to our natural life, every 〈◊〉 is fetcht from Him; so in our spiritual life, the life of the soul is He that made it. A world without a Sun, is dark; a body without a soul, is dead; but a soul withont God, is dark, is dead, is damned: Its true, men feed, and sing, and make a shift without God in the World, but he that lives truly lives by faith; the other life Beasts live, they eat, and drink, and work, but know not God; but if you will define the life of a soul, God must be in the beginning, in the midst, and in the end of it.
- Our only way of communion with God is in an Ordinance . This is the River, the streams whereof make glad the heart. Were a City besieged by mortal enemies round about, and no relief to be conveyed, but by the River that waters it; how fatal to the City would the stopping of that River be? that City must starve, or yield: The ordinary supplies that a Christian cannot be without, come swimming down from Heaven through the Ordinances of God; Distractions stop the River, hinder Prayer from ascending to God, hinder instruction from descending into the heart, intercept commerce and starve the soul. The zeal of the Iews was eminent this way, of whom Iosephus relates, that when Pompeys Souldiers shot at the thickest of them in the siege of Ierusalem, yet amidst those arrows, did they go and perform their rites, as though there had been peace: why, thy Prayer is the Embassador, Distractions cut off the feet, and Prov. 26.6. He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool, cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage. A wandring Prayer is a message by the hand of a fool, and that man is like to drink damage that useth it: A man is a poor thing without God, and God is not ordinarily met with but in an Ordinance.
- All our strength and Heart is too little for this business. All our understanding too little to apprehend his rare perfections; All our affections too weak and shallow, to love, imbrace and delight in him; hence, Mark. 12.33. we are obliged to love, and so to serve the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, that is, with every faculty of the soul, and with the utmost strength of every faculty. Now if it be hard enough to climb the hill unto God with wings; how shall we ascend with these weights about us, or think to please with half an heart, when the whole is too little? for he is a great King and his name is dreadfull among the Heathen; when all the water in the pool will but turn the Mill, that Miller is a fool, that by twenty Channels lets out the Water other wayes: The intense and earnest heart is little enough to converse with God, all the water in our Pool will but turn the Mill. What then can the remiss heart bring to pass, and how unlikely are we to obtain with the great God, with the negligent approaches of a trivial spirit, with a little part of a little heart ?
THe fourth Reason is taken from the Nature of Distractions.
- They divide the Heart, and disable it wholly; now a divided heart can do nothing at all, Hos. 10.2. Their heart is divided, now shall they be found faulty; If one heart divided from another make a fault, much more faulty is one heart divided within it self. Hence it comes to pass, that Satan offers, as the false Mother did about the living Child, 1 King. 3.26. Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it, If he cannot block your way to the presence of God, and make good his claim to the living Child; as She would have done, then with might and main, he furthers all imaginable diversions to part the Soul; and cryes, Lord let it be neither thine nor mine, but divide it; well knowing that (as the Child, so) the heart while intire, is a living and lively heart, but divide it and destroy it; As he that runs at once after two Hares, catches neither, so two businesses at once, spoils both. He that thinks to treat the Creator and the creature at the same time, enjoyes neither of them: And thus the vain heart of man by over-doing, undoes it self, and reaching at two matters, spoils them both.
- These Distractions frustrate the Ordinance; and cause the great name of God to be taken in vain. Instead of forcing the Hearers, these do but beat the air, and cannot reach the Heart of God, because they never reach your own. And this is one of the follies of a roving heart, that it consumes as much time in a sensless as in a serious Duty, and yet doth nothing in it, brings nothing to pass. And so the Holy God stands over the heedless sinner with Iobs words, Job. 16.3. When shall Vain words have an End? I am weary with this tinkling Cymbal, either pray in earnest, or pray not at all; hear in earnest, or hear not at all: As good not at all, as never the better. The service of God requires a man, not a shadow, yea all a man, and more than a man, our spirits, and Gods spirit also. Those that tremble at the prophane mans taking Gods name in vain, should make a Conscience, lest they do it themselves; lest They be damned for their Oaths, and You for your prayers; because you wrong Gods Majesty under the pretence of serving him, and so affront him with more solemnity.
- They contract more sin upon the Soul. We read, Levit. 10.1. That Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron took either of them his Censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord. And the Lord took it in high disdain, and with strange fire consumed them Sins of Ordinances are often extraordinary sins; as Sacriledge is a greater sin, than plain theft, because it is a purloyning of what is consecrated; so a sin in worship hath this aggravation, that its in a place and presence and business, that is set apart for communion with God. Hence it comes to pass, that many of Gods •hildren have had grievous pangs and •errour of Conscience on their death-bed, for ordinance sins. He that should be scoring out his sins, and instead of that, scores on more, makes his sin exceeding sinfull. O what need then have we to pray, Psal. 119.39. Turn away mine eyes from beholding Vanity, and quicken thou me in thy way.
And these are some of the Reasons, that confirm and inforce this Practical Doctrine, That we should attend upon the Lord without Distractions; and so you have the fourth general Head.
CHAP. V. Objections Answered.
BUT because there is no Duty so clear, that our sinfull hearts will embrace, if any shew of contradiction can be produced; I shall wipe away all Possible Objections against this Duty, which is the Fifth general Head to be handled.
It is impossible thus to Attend on God without distractions. Such is the Variety of objects, such the imbecillity of our Nature, such the weakness of our Graces, such the suddenness and swiftness of a thought, that none but Angels can do this. You press impossibles, it can never be.
Though this objection hath been prevented before, yet seeing it recurs again, I answer,
- Perfection herein is impossible in this life: not but that a prayer or other Ordinance may be attended with that intenseness, as to exclude every wandring thought that would step in; but to be perfectly free in every Duty from them, is rather to be wished, than hoped for in this life. That Angelical perfection is Reserved for Heaven, This Evangelical perfection may be here attained, which is the prevalence of grace against them; and not only a will but a watch and an endeavour to be utterly rid of them.
- And in this sense, there is no divine precept impossible: Though our Lord Jesus saith, Joh. 15.5. Without me ye can do nothing, yet the Apostle finds, Phil. 4.13. I can do all things through him, that strengtheneth me. If all things, then why not this! Though it were impossible ex parte Rei, in its self, yet is it possible ex parte Dei, with Gods help, we are prone to think that we can compass easie things by our own strength, and that difficult things are too hard for God. Have you ever tryed to the utmost what God and you can do! could you not have heard a Sermon better, if a naked sword had hang’d by a single twist over your bare heads; and have prayed more cordially, if you had seen every word you prayed, written down by the hand of God. The same circumspection that keeps a Distraction out of one sentence, might (were you faithful therein) keep it out of two or ten or twenty, and he that can be temperate for a day, might be temperate every day, if he did his best.
- It is a mixture of cowardize and sloth, that makes it impossible. It is an argument of a slothful heart to say, There is a Lyon in the way, O there is a Lyon in the streets, Prov. 26.13. yet if there were a Lyon in the way to Heaven, thou must rather run upon him, than run from God. There is a worse Lyon will meet you in the way to Hell. No, no; its not the danger without, but the dulness and slothfulness within, that Creates the impossibility. How many hundreds out of fearfulness and idleness, have restrained Prayer before God; till being soundly awaken’d they set about prayer; and found it both feasable and delightful? Religion in the power of it, is a work of pains. If you will not sweat for Heaven, you must never have it: try but the next duty with your best Diligence, and you shall find it possible to the power of Grace, which looks impossible to the strength of Nature.
Obj. 2. It is difficult: if it be not impossible, yet its very hard, Its a lesson for the upper form in the School of Iesus Christ. We mean schollars need not attempt it, because we cannot attain it: as good to sit still, as rise up and fall. This is too hard for us.
Answ. 1. This argues the excellency of it, the more hard, the more honourable, and therefore this should rather whet, than dull thy courage. If you except all hard points out of the practice of piety, you will leave but few to be practised; It is the idle Schollar, that skips over the hardest words of his lesson, but the rod must fetch him back unto them: neither must you expect that God will take any notice of your easie duties, if you turn off the hard; he could have servants enough to do his easie work, but Religion must go all together, and almost Christianity will not serve the turn.
- The way to Heaven is hard, and this you were told at first: Mat. 7.14. Because strait is the Gate and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life. If you like it not, let it alone, but see you exchange for the better. To get a Kingdom is not easie, its easie to lose one. Who gets a race without sweating, or a victory without bleeding, or Heaven without striving? Hence Mr. Latimer to one that objects against the duty he was pressing, (which was that Landlords should send for their Tenants and end differences among them) that this were a good work indeed, but marvellous hard. O saith he, my friend, It is an hard matter to be a Christian. Heaven was never gotten yet without violence, and there is no new way found of coming there. But if Christ Iesus had not done harder work than this for thee, thou must never have come there.
- And is there no hardship in attending upon sin? Is it an easie thing to serve the Devil? Wise Solomon saith, Prov. 13.15. The way of Transgressors is hard. Our love to it blinds our eyes, or else he serves an hard service, that dances attendance on any sin; The Lascivious man swallows many difficulties, perhaps weeks and months together, to continue the pleasure of an hour. How many dark nights doth the Drunkard walk, and hard words indure, and hard shift make to feed that sensless lust! who would digest the life of a covetous worldling? hard fare, hard work, hard journeys, for what may be consumed in two hours; to say nothing of the life of the envious, the ambitious, the malicious man, whose daily bread is mingled not only with sweat, but gall and bitterness; and yet who hears them complain of difficulty, or throw off their designs for hardness. And is it not far better to conquer difficulties for Heaven than Hell, and venture upon hardship for Christ and thine own soul, than for Satan and thy damnation? especially when Love to the service of God would make this yoke as easie, as transgressors labour is to them.
- Though it be hard to keep off these Distractions, yet it is necessary, It must be done. Good Mary would not by any business be Distracted in her attendance on Christ, Luk. 10.42. and He resolves therein, that she did the One needful thing. Poor men find it hard to work six dayes together, but there being a necessity of it, there’s no excuse; they could find twenty put offs, but it must be done, work or starve. We have the same Dilemma, Pray or perish, and that’s not half a Prayer, that’s fill’d with Distractions.
- Though it be hard, yet it is sweet, Prov. 3.17. Her wayes are wayes of Pleasantness; and this is one of them. You shall ever observe, the more wandring the heart, the more wearisome the Duty; a Divided heart can taste but partial comfort, and fulness of joy follows, where the full bent of the soul goes before. Our common experience tells us, what peace, what joy, what confidence, what suavity fills the heart, when we have (though with some difficulty) approached the Lord, enjoyed him, and attended on him without Distraction . What is more hard to the brain and body, than study? for pains, a Schollar would choose the Plough before it; the brain, the back, the heart and spirits are pained and spent: yet no employment so sweet, the mind and brain and heart refreshed, and a right Schollar would hardly change employments with a Prince; so sweet; so ravishing is this hard employment. Even so it is with Prayer or any holy Ordinance, the sweetness of a watchfull serious frame, doth fully compensate the difficulty thereof.
- Custome and Practice will make it much easier ; He that executes the law on vagrants, though at first he were pestred with them, will after a while with ease be delivered of them: so that resolved Christian, who keeps up his watch and ward awhile, shall find it each day easier than other, to attend on God without these vagrant thoughts. Use and custome makes the hardest things easie. As a wise man that converses in the midst of his observing enemies, by use is inured to all caution, and can easily avoid all dangerous words or behaviour; though it be hard, he is used to it; so practice will wonderfully facillitate this hard duty. You once thought it impossible for you to Pray, but practice hath made you perfect. The same spirit, by the same help, can and will perfect you in this. This is one of those Infirmities the spirit of God will help.
Object. 3. THe Commonness of these Distractions; No man but is full of them, All serious Christians complain of them. What is so ordinary cannot be very evil, these vanities that every one hath, I cannot expect to be without, and therefore must be content.
Answ. 1. This must be answered with Grief. Every man is full of them, and every Good man is sick with them. If every mans body were gone after his soul, this would sometimes be an empty Congregation. Every solemn look hath not a serious heart, and there are but few that make a business of Prayer; And this is a lamentable thing, that we can hold a discourse with man, or crave a kindness, or drive a bargain without a wandring thought: till our face be set towards God, and that we begin a duty of Worship, and then or ever we are aware, our Soul is slipt off her Chariot wheels, and our sight of God is lost.
- And yet some watchful Christians (as we observed before) have got a good riddance of them, to accuse others is a poor excuse to you. As their humility teaches them to complain of the worst, so your charity should cause you to think the best: no doubt they that are sick of them, do by degrees get Physick against them, and grow better.
- By this Plea all sins might be justified; Thus swearing might be advanced before Praying, for it is more common than Prayer; Revenge is more common than Forgiveness, but this is no excuse for it. He that will do as the most do, must go whither most go, Exod. 23.2. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil, no nor to think evil. If thou wilt be Christ’s Disciple, thou must be serious and attentive, though the whole Congregation trifle. True sanctity is not grounded on mens practice, but on Gods precept. Make no apologies but such as you can stand to before the face of God. What a poor plea will it be to say, I was drunk for company, I stragled from God for company, Get thee to Hell for company; that which will be no mitigation of your pain, is no extenuation of your crime. If many displease the Lord, you have more need to please him, if many play, you have more need to work, and rather choose to be saved with a few, than damned with a crowd.
- In such an universal loytering, thy care will be more acceptable; Loyalty is doubly valued and rewarded, where Rebellion is general; and one dutiful Child is cherisht among many disobedient. Isa. 66.2. To this man will I look, to him that is poor and contrite and trembleth at my word. The Great Iehova there overlooks Heaven and Earth, and the House of his rest, to fix his blessed eye on this man or woman, that when he comes to a Sermon doth not, dare not trifle, but trembles at the word, and that feels every sentence at his heart. When Gallants come into the Congregation then Man looks, but when the poor trembling Hearer comes in, then God looks; The Angels gaze at such guests, as vain people do at Silks and Fashions. O its a rare sight to see a Christian in earnest, to behold an humble man converse with God, the Host of Heaven rise up and are taken with it. If therefore it be so common to be distracted in Duties, do thou disdain to be in the common fashion, get quickly into the Mode of Heaven.
Object. 4. GOd will accept the will for the Deed; I would be free from these temptations, but in this life I cannot, and therefore shall sit down content. God is merciful, though you are strict. And he hath said, 2 Cor. 8.12. If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
Answ. 1. This axiom and Scripture were never intended as a pillow for the lazy, but a support to the weary; nor to exempt us from our duty, but to comfort us under our weakness. What Parent will accept this answer from a negligent Child? or what Master will be content of this excuse, from a slothful servant? offer it now to you Governour, and imagine not, it will pass with God, which would be counted a mockery with men.
- God never accepts the Will for the Deed, when the Deed may be done; when the Idem cannot be paid, the Tantundem shall serve; yea and so far as the Deed can be done, the will without it, is but a mockery unto God. But wherein an upright heart hath done its utmost in the use of all means, and would do more, this will is accepted for the Deed, even as if thou hadst perfectly obeyed; And so that Scripture cited is express in the case of charity; It is accepted according to that a man hath. So that a man must give according to that he hath, or else his willing mind stands for nothing. Now have you done your utmost against Distractions! can you do no more? If Death stood at the end of the Duty, you could double your watch. Plead not this till you have done your best.
- It is far from the quality of grace, to sit down content in any defect or sin, or to vouch the mercy of God to secure the soul in any transgression; who when he is drest in his richest garments of mercy, Exod. 34.7. Yet will not by any means clear the guilty. No, it is the Genius of true Grace to be restless under his de•ects, if he cannot be rid of them: to rowle up the stone, though it tumble still upon him, and cry out and roar under those diseases that are uncurable. After the Apostle had told us, Rom. 7.19. The good I would, I do not, but the Evil that I would not, that I do. He lyes not down, and resolves to let it run, but fights, and strives, and cryes, O wretched man that I am. Vers. 24. Si dixisti sufficit periisti. If thou once sit down, be content, and say, I’le strive no more, thou givest the field. The Spirit withdraws with tears, and Satan goes away with triumph.
- The Great Iehovah is so far from being content with such a frame, that he hath plainly cursed all such as do the work of the Lord negligently, or deceitfully, Jer. 48.10. Though you neglect not the work of the Lord, yet if you do it negligently, you are in danger of the curse. Every Distraction is a neglect, in each wandring you deal deceitfully with God, and for every of these in a Duty, Gods Law pronounceth a Curse. And is the Divine Curse inconsiderable with you? who could digest an hundred curses, though pronounced at your door by a provoked neighbour? O how much more intolerable is it, to be obnoxious to an hundred Curses from Heaven, justly deserved and infallibly inflicted, if Repentance prevent not. It is not the work of the Lord will excuse you; Nadab shall perish with his strange fire, as well as if he had offered nothing at all. Take heed of forgiving your selves, when God forgives you not, A negligent Duty is abomination to God.
And thus you have the most material Objections answered, which is the fifth Point handled.
CHAP. VI. The Causes of Distractions, with their Remedies.
VVE shall now proceed unto the more Practical part of this Subject, namely to find out and summ up the causes of this Epidemical Disease, which is the Sixth Point to be handled.
The First Cause of Distractions in Gods service is, Secret Atheism . There is an Atheism of the Head, Atheism of the heart, and Atheism of the Life. In the first, The Fool hath said in his Head, There is no God, Psal. 14.1. Mark, it is not, He hath thought in his heart, but says it by rote to himself; rather as what he would have, than what he doth believe. And of him this is truly said, That the speculative Atheist is the greatest Monster in the world, except the Practical. And our late Divisions, by the help of our corrupt Natures, have proselyted a considerable number to this desperate Opinion: As if the different opinions about the ebb•ng and slowing of the Sea, should render it doubtful whether the Sea did ebb and flow; or the disputes about the manner of Vision, should call our Sight it self into question: You would think it a fond conclusion to say, Because Philosophers argue much about the sensitive and vegitative Faculties of the Soul, that there is no rational Soul at all, in that these very velitations and debates do argue a rational Soul, by and with which these points are disputed: even so it is notorious madness to conclude, from the variety and diversity of Opinions about Religion and Government, that there is no God; seeing you are supported by him, while you dispute and argue about him.
Atheism of the Heart, is, whereby the Fool saith also in his Heart, There is no God; that is, either secretly questions, or but coldly assents to the existence of God, or heartily wishes there were none at all. And it is worth observation of both these, that they are such as are obnoxious to the Divine Majesty by some misdemeanor: The Felon wishes there were no Judge at all, and even these are forced in some pangs to acknowledge him, at some fright by thunder, under some horrour of Consci•nce, or in the point of death, they are forced to give Iehovah his due. And they also in any sudden fright, or great extremity, use to cry out, O God, O Lord, as earnestly as others.
Atheism of the Life, that’s described, Tit. 1.14. They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him. Now both these latter do breed of the first, and this last is most visible in our Distractions: For if thou didst as verily believe God present in an Ordinance, as he that sits next thee, durst thou trifle so egregiously as thou dost? The Minister looks at you, and you dare not talk; if you saw him that looks at you from Heaven, you durst not straggle: And therefore the more or less strong our belief is of God, the more or less lively are we in our applications to him. Oh the patience of God! that he can indure the Worm to doubt of him, yea implicitely to deny him, and not demonstrate himself by a Thunderbolt! But the Countrey-man’s ignorance of the Primum Mobile, doth not nullifie it; no more doth the Athiests Infidelity degrade the Primus Motor, the Majesty of Heaven, Heb. 11.6. He that cometh unto God, must first believe that he is.
The Remedy of this Cause, is, Humbly to read the Scripture, which is the most clear, certain and convincing way to work Faith herein. Prayer and the Bible have convinc’d more than any other Reasons, & recommend me to Moses above Plato, for the demonstrating a Deity. All that Reason can suggest, might be written by an Infidel; and more Infidels (I trow) have been convinced by reading and hearing the Book of the Christians, than have Christians been settled by reading the Books of Infidels. And therefore although holy David, Psal. 19.1. appeals to the Heavens, and the Host of them, as a most strong Argument to declare God, and so it is; (for what reason but the hand of a God, can be rendred, that the Planets being all of one matter, should have contrary motions, seeing things of the like matter have by nature like motion?) yet laying that Topick aside, he pitches upon the Law of God, vers. 7. as the most perfect and sure way to demonstrate a God, and convert and enwise a Soul. Then go to God in prayer, and beg him to touch thy Heart, and open thine Eyes, and thou shalt quickly see him that is not far from every one of us.
THE second Cause of Distractions in the service of God, is, The corruption of our Nature, that is, of Soul and Body; so that our inward faculties do act our outward senses, and they infect our inward faculties in this business, Mat. 15.19. Out of the Heart proceed vain and evil thoughts; are not forced out, as sparks out of a Flint, but come out thence of themselves, as sparks out of a Furnace: View the mind, and its accident is Vanity, and how can a vain Mind be serious with God without a great deal of grace? The Heart its name is Deceitful, and makes a trade of jugling and purloining in the solemnest Duties; and when the ear receives the word as a lovely song, she runs after covetousness the while. Now is she without, now in the streets, and l•eth in wait at every corner, like the lewd woman, Prov. 7.11. The eye that should be fix’d on Heaven, is in the ends of the earth, and gathering a stragling notion from every object. The ear by every noise calls off the soul from its great business, thus wofully the old man is bent against the new man. Rom. 7.23. The law of the members war against the law of the mind, and leads us into captivity to the law of sin that is in the members. When the mind it self is set in its most hearty purposes to wait on God, and offer him a faithful sacrifice, then comes in the law of the members, and either suggests within, or admits from without some roving notions, and these lead the poor soul like that young man, Prov. 7.21, 22. forc’d with flatteries, like the ox to the slaughter or the fool to the correction of the stocks. And he that began in Heaven, ends on earth, if not in hell. Thus the good he would do, he cannot. O wretched man that must lead his life with such an heart!
As if a man were tied still to shoot in a warping bow; he settles himself in his right postures, aims directly at the White, but his warping bow still carries the arrow quite besides the Butt, and his skill is rendred ineflectual: so the poor upright Christian in a duty, orders his business and his heart, as well as ever he can, and aims at the glorifying of God, and getting good to his soul; but the corruption of his nature diverts him, and perverts him from his purpose. This hinders the elevation of the soul, which would fix it in God’s service, like one that hath a light heart, and an heavy body; the light heart would flie, the heavy body clips her wings, and will hardly creep. O, saith the soul, now will I arise and soar into heaven; I must, I will, speak with my God; my wants are pressing, my sins increase, Eternity approaches, who will give me the wings of an Eagle? I’le never live so far from God, I will away. Thus this Bird of Paradise takes wing, when behold the stone of her corrupt nature hangs at her leg, and weighs her down: she flutters a little, but cannot flie, for her heart she cannot flie, indeed because of the heart she cannot flie .
And not only the dulness, but the deceitfulness of our corrupt nature furthers our distractions. For though the heart be deceitful from the beginning to the end of the year, yet her prime and subtled sleights are shewed in the service of God; where she is put hard to it to shift hard for her self, and therefore useth her finest notions and sliest fetches to evade the presence of God, and powerful influences of the holy Ghost. Like some subtil Thief, that joyns himself to the unwary Traveller, and gives him pleasant company a while, till when he watches his time he draws him with him out of the way, and takes his purse; before he is aware he is in a wood, and his purse is gone. Even so, the heart of man takes on to be very willing to prayer, or other good duties, and goes with us a while; but ere we have stept twenty sentences into our work, this deceitful heart turns us aside, brings us to feed upon ashes, and binds up the faculties, that we cannot deliver our souls, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? Isa. 44.20. Now is it not an hell upon earth to live with such a heart, to cross a man in the midst of his greatest business, disappoint him in his highest expectations, and make him lose his labour, if not his soul?
The Remedy against this corruption of our Nature is hard. To divert a stream is easie, but to dry up a spring is hard, stop it here, and it breaks out there. So to divert and discharge a wandring thought is easie in comparison, but the womb of the heart is pregnant; kill one Viper, and there’s an hundred more ready for the birth. We think our worldly business is the only cause of them, but the most retired Hermites tell us, that an unsanctified or half-sanctified heart can find matter enough of diversion in a naked Cell. And that the corruption of the subject, as well as the bewitching of the object, makes us trifle in Gods worship. As Hierom tells of Hilarion , whose heart roving from God, was soundly scourged for his labour by an Angel. And therefore the only cure of this is, to get a true and greater degree of sanctifying grace.
You that have no grace, can never pray well, till your hearts be changed, a new heart can only sing this new song well. You complain that you want expressions, ah! it is impressions you want, and nothing else; if you had that sense of sin, that makes the soul to ake and mourn, you would find words sufficient to express it, and you would not be playing with your fingers, when you are in danger of falling into hell fire; nor smil•ng at one another, when God is frowning, and thundring against you. He that feels the Stone to torment, hath few wandring thoughts, while he is telling his grief, and seeking help. The condemned prisoner is not sleeping, or fooling at the Bar. Dionysius his Flatterer had little mind of his Musick, seeing the naked sword hang by an hair over his empty head; neither would a poor sinner, if he were enlightned to see his guilt and danger, so commonly and senselesly trifle before God, when his matter is debating, and terms of life or death proposing. Alas! there is no hope of your cure in this, till your fundamental disease be healed, your whole life is a long distraction from the true end, and main business of life; and therefore it stands you upon, if ever you would perform a pleasing duty unto God, to get grace, whereby you may serve God acceptably, for without that you cannot do it.
And to counterballance that corruption of Nature in you, you that have some sanctification, must get more. This sweet wood cast into that bitter water, will by degrees render it more wholesome. The more sanctification, the more you will be mortified to the world, and all the business and vanity thereof; and then its thoughts and cares will not rush in, with that violence upon you, but stay to speak with you at your better leisure; or if they be invading the heart, you will have more vigour of grace to expel them, and more repentance for them; you will be more lively, and spiritual, and fervent in Religious duties, and so less room for these wandrings; for he that’s hot in his business, prevents the assault of the most importunate diversions; and a lively serious Christian runs on his errand, like Elisha’s Servant, 2 King. 4.29. If thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again; and Satan cannot fasten discourse on such a man: yea, and generally, the more holy the heart is, the fewer of these wandring thoughts; forasmuch as sanctity being his frame and element, heterogeneous by thoughts do put him out of his temper, and so displease him, and cause some smart to the soul; and the sin that really molests a man, will hardly ever prevail over him; and finally, the more holiness you attain, the more afraid will you be to displease God. For to be amended with a little cross, to be affected with a little mercy, and to be afraid of a little sin, are certain arguments of a great deal of grace. And therefore an holy Christian is more troubled at a vain thought in a duty, than a sleight Christian is at the total neglect of a Duty.
It follows therefore, that all means be used and improved to the utmost, for the increasing of the grace of God in your hearts, there being as much duty to grow in grace, as to get it, and no greater argument of sincerity, than endeavours to grow better. Turn therefore those many thoughts you spend about the truth of your grace, into all possible care to advance and increase it, so will you best clear your doubts, and in particular clear your distractions.
THe third Cause of distractions in the Service of God, is, unpreparedness unto it. Iob 11.13. If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands to hins— If iniquity be in thy hand, put it far away— Then shalt thou be stedfast. First, prepare the heart, then stretch out the hands. He that keeps not his foot, when he goes into the house or service of God, a thousand to one he stumbles, and offers but the sacrifice of fools. He that’s unfitted for any work, must needs be unfixed in it . As holy Mr. Dod used to say of Afflictions, when we are prepared for them, they are like a sword that only strikes upon our Armour; but when we be unprepared, they be like a sword striking on our bare skin: Even so, when the heart is well fixed and prepared for the Lord’s service, an impertinent thought or suggestion falls on our Armour, but when we come unprepared, it meets with our very hearts, and runs away with them. If a man chop into a Prince’s presence undress’d, unbrush’d, or without his band, you may easily imagine how, when he is aware of the feathers or dirt up and down, he is distracted: so is the Soul wofully carried off, when approaching to God, the follies of sin, and vanities of the world disfigure and divert it from a close converse with God; and therefore a serious Christian doth not only pray, and watch in prayer, but watcheth unto prayer. We so eat our meat (says Tertullian of their primitive Supping) as remembring we must go pray before we go to bed . And here I shall answer a necessary Question, viz.
- What kind of Preparation is necessary before our ordinary duties of Worship?
Answ. 1. The light of nature teacheth us to prepare for every weighty action. Approaching to the Lord of Heaven and Earth is such. Who teaches the Client to consider his case, when he comes to state it to his Advocate? or the Husband-man to prepare himself for his tillage, or the poor suitor to weigh his request, that he makes to a Prince? Why, the light of nature teacheth this; and the light of Scripture distinguisheth an upright man from an hypocrite hereby. 2 Chron. 19.3. There are good things in thee— in that thou hast prepared thine heart to seek God: there was Iehoshaphat. Again, 2 Chron. 12.14. Rehoboam did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord. He sought God, its likely, as many will do, but he cared not how he did it, and so though he did a good thing, yet, saith the Scripture, He did evil.
Answ. 2. Most certainly the Lord is a great God, who can raise or ruine thee in a moment, and whom the Angels approach not without a profound respect: and so likewise Duties of Worship are great and weighty Duties, wherein you transact for a Kingdom, and plead or hear the cause that is for life or death. You drink a cup that will either mend or end you, and who is sufficient for these things? And it is manifest, that we are naturally unprepared, and to every good work reprobate. The positure of our hearts is inverted, and now they are open downwards, and shut towards Heaven; all which if you lay together, it must needs follow, that some preparation is necessary, even for the ordinary duties of God’s Worship.
Answ. 3. The hearts of men are of a different temper, and so are their occasions; the hearts of some are always in heaven, or else within a Call: they are, as the Apostle speaks, Tit. 3.1. Ready to every good work. When a duty of Piety is offered, they are ready; when an object of charity is proposed, they are ready to distribute. And this present Spirit is a great blessing, when Holiness is so rooted and framed upon the heart, that God’s Worship is their Element: the hearts of others, through custom and supine negligence, abide at great distance from God; no little ado will raise them, nor will they be fetch’d in with many calls; like a great Bell, hard to be raised: and as these have a greater unhappiness, so they have need of more pains to fit them for God’s service.
The occasions of some men will give them time enough to set their hearts in order, to state their souls condition, and chafe themselves into an holy heat; and for them to come with cold and dead hearts into Religious duties, cannot be answered. The occasions of others are so urgent and continual, that they have much ado to redeem time, for Prayer, but can hardly set apart time for a set and formal Preparation; especially when a man is surprised with an holy duty, or in prayer at meals, or the like: and therefore one Last may as soon fit all feet, as one particular Rule suit with every good Christian.
Answ 4. The least measure of Preparation that is necessary for the ordinary worship of God, is, That the heart be recalled, and recollected out of the world , and made apprehensive or sensible of the Nature of that God, and weight of that work, that you are about; which, if you can attain in a minute, or are of necessity straitned or surprized, you will be welcome to Heaven: but if you can easily order your time, or not easily order your hearts, and remand your thoughts, you venture on your peril; and if God be not merciful, and you penitent, you will carry away a curse instead of a blessing. And so I conclude this Answer with Heb. 12.28, 29. Let us have grace (not only a gracious habit, but a gracious frame) whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire.
Think it not much therefore, to keep or get an heart prepared for the Worship of God. When Ringers set not in together, there’s little but jangling in that Peal, but when they start all together, there’s sweet musick; and so it is, when all the Congregation set •out, and take wing at once, it’s Musick for Heaven: whereas the heart that is unready for the duty, mostly rings discords in it, and spoils the harmony . And indeed, this unpreparedness of the soul doth make the duty ungrateful to the Worshipper; When a friend comes upon you, and you are unready, no provision or rooms in readiness, how (comparatively) unpleasing is his visit, and distracted his entertainment? when as to him that keeps a constant table, or hath made set preparation, the sight and conversation of his friend is very sweet: So it is between our God and us; when the rooms of the soul are prepared, and at our gates (ready) are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, laid up for our beloved, how can we welcome our Maker on his own cost into our souls? whereas Christ himself hath but cold welcome, and distracted entertainment in an unprepared soul. Lift up therefore thy heart in the porch of a duty, with Psal. 119.37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in thy way.
THe fourth cause of Distractions in God’s Worship is Luke-warmness . He that is intense in any thing hath few thoughts to spare. Distractions are but the idlings of the hea•t, he that runs, looks at nothing but the goal; though he meet passengers, or pass by Palaces, he is in earnest, and stops at nothing: it is he that walks at leisure, that turns his eye to every trifle, and descants on every object, he’s not in haste at all. Even so the zealous Soul, though he forgets not those things that are behind, yet reaching forth to the things that are before, presseth towards the mark, he hath business in hand that concerns Eternity, he cannot stand to whisper with every passenger, nor trifle with every object. It is the luke-warm heart that is prone to that. He can pray to God, and dress himself at once, he can hear God and talk with men, speak about heaven and contrive about the earth, and, in a word, serve God and Mammon at a time. Good Iacob was little troubled with wandring thoughts, Hos. 12.3, 4. when he had by his strength power with God, yea, he had power over the Angel and prevailed, for he wept and made supplication. Tears are the best charms to chase away Distractions. While you sweat, and weep, and pray, wandring thoughts will flee away .
As there can be no reason given for any sin, (call’d therefore folly) so for this in special; for if the holy work you are about, be worth the consuming of your time, (which passes in every duty, and is most precious) sure it’s worth the spending your pains and diligence. He that loseth his time in the duty, and loseth his soul by his luke-warmness in the duty, makes a mad man’s match. For if the Sermon, Prayer, Chapter, be not worth thy labour, never attempt it; and if it be, never shrink, nor be indifferent about it. When you see a man freez at his work, it invites a passenger to entertain him with talk. And a frigid attender upon God tempts the Devil himself to tempt him. Wherefore the Apostle, Rom. 12.11. directs us to be fervent in spirit, while we are serving the Lord: not drowsie, but fervent in spirit, or boyling hot, as the word signifies. The busiest flies will not meddle with the scalding hony; though the sweetness entice them, yet the heat affrights them. The base flies of thy distractions will not molest thy heart, if it keep boyling hot in the service of God. A warm and weeping Prayer is the right Holy Water, that scares away the devil.
Now the best remedy against this Luke-warmness is, 1. Consideration, and 2. Practice.
- Consideration of the ineffectualness of a frozen duty, which seldom reacheth the Heart of God when it reacheth not our own . That the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent only take it by force; that such duties neither please God, nor our selves, they mock God, and rather deceive than delight us. That some Prayer or Sermon must be thy last, and perhaps this present may be it. That it is an irrational thing, to bring a dead Sacrifice to a living God. That one serious and lively duty does you more good, and leaves a more sweet, blessed and active frame upon the soul, than an hundred heartless services; and, in short, That the Majesty, whom you serve, loves Adverbs , and narrowly observes the How’s and Why’s of Sacred Worship: That it is not a vain thing that you are about, for it is your life. Deut. 32.47.
- Practice is the other remedy. To cure this luke-warmness in God’s service, frequent those Lights that are burning as well as shining. Let’s go to Dedham (said the Godly in that time) to fetch fire, when famous M. Rogers was there. If you cannot hear a warming Divine, then read them, and be sure to have some Books for the rouzing and •eating of your heart, as others for clearing and instructing your judgment, unless the work of Sanctification be perfect already in your heart and affections, while it remains imperfect in your mind and judgment. Associate also with zealous Christians, borrow some of their heat, and lend them some of your light; and be not ashamed to talk of God, Heaven and a Soul when you are together; we lose the benefit of mens graces, for want of broaching those blessed Vessels of grace you converse with. Especially read the Scripture, which will inflame thee, and mold thee (being rightly used) into its blessed nature. I have known some, that before their private duties would meditate on a verse in the Psalms, Can•icles, or the like, and then run hot and lively into the presence of God. And chose rather to be frequent and fervent, than long and roving in a duty. Shorter prayers may sometimes inflame, when long ones tire the spirits; and that way the antient Christians in Egypt used to take. And, lastly, do as holy David did, that carried such a nature as thou dost, be ever calling to God, (as, He who is at it eight or nine times in Psal. 119. Quicken me in thy way, quicken me, and I will call upon thy name: and if He had need thus to fetch fire from Heaven, how much more have We?
- Were it not better to omit the duty, than attempt it with such a dull heartless frame as this?
- 1. Omission of a duty will never fit us for the better performance of a duty. Luther was used to say, The oftner I neglect, the more unfit I am: this is nothing but a shift of the Devil.
- If thou dost endeavour with thy utmost strength• and sincerity, though thou be dull, it’s better than to leave it undone: for as one sin prepares for another, so one duty prepares for another. Fall therefore to work, and then God is engaged to help thee; never think neglects will mend it; one sin never cures another.
By the upright use of these means, you will find the holy Ghost, as it were, stretch himself on your cold hearts, and infuse life and heat into you. And when you are soaring aloft in the Spirit, that cunning marksman cannot shoot, and fetch you down by his distracting Arrows.
THe fifth cause of Distractions in God’s Worship, is, Worldly mindedness. An heart in earth, and an heart in Heaven, are far asunder . As long as the Lark soareth upward, she sings without danger of the Net; but stooping to gaze on the Foulers deceitful Glass, she is quickly ensnared. So is it with us, while we live aloft, we are safe; but when the heart stoops down, and grows worldly through the false glass Satan puts upon it, then are we taken in these snares. Ezek. 33.31. With their mouthes they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. Their faces look one way, but they row another; their eyes are up towards heaven, their hearts set on the earth, and grasping two affairs they prosper in neither. How should he set his affections on the things above, that hath set them chiefly on things below? when as these two are directly opposed, Col. 3.2. How should the Soul, that Bird of Paradise, flie up to heaven in a duty, when it is not only weighed down with the lead of natural corruption, but intangled in the lime-twigs of earthly mindedness? they can never write on their duties, Holiness to the Lord, that stamp upon their coyn, God with us . Hence it comes to pass, that the heart is loth to come to an Ordinance, and then longs to goe out again: how heavily do they go to Church, how lightly to the market? for here the heart goes with them, and there it’s left behind; and being forc’d into a duty, because its treasure is in the world, the heart hastens to be there again, and sicut piscis in arido, is out of its element when in an Ordinance .
We read of the world set in a mans heart, Eccles. 3.11. and of an heart set on the world, Ps. 62.10. Now how should God have any of such a heart? No, no, he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth; there he can rest without weariness; of that he can discourse without distractions: but when he should turn to God, and flee to heaven, this care knocks at door, and that business whispers him in the ear, and there the carcase is left, but the heart is gone. The Prophet, Hosea 4.11. tells us, that whoredome, and wine, and new wine take away the heart. It were very unlikely, that any man in the heat of those sins should pray, or hear, or meditate aright; and it is much what as likely, for an heart that is taken away with the cares of this world, and drowned therein, to converse with God, without innumerable wandrings .
Mistake not, it is not the world, but worldly mindedness that is taxed; not the increase of riches, but the heart set upon them : And so no doubt a poor man may have his part of distractions, through his want of worldly things, as well as the rich through his abundance. He may have many a distracting thought what to do for the world, as the rich hath what to do with the world. And thus we see, those things which were given for our welfare, prove our snare; and what should hire us to serve God, keeps us from him. Which shews, what good reason the wise man had to crave neither riches nor poverty, but convenient comforts, seeing the weight of the world distracts one sort, and the want of the world another sort in the very immediate service of God. Howbeit for the most part, the heart that is fullest of the world is emptiest of God.
Now the best remedy against worldly mindedness, is Mortification. O get a chip of Christ’s Cross, Gal. 6.14. whereby the world will be crucifi’d to you, and you to the world. So was Paul. As saith one of the Antients , Paul and the world were like two dead bodies, that neither embrace with delight, nor part with grief from each other. You must be dead, I say dead, to the world, if you mean to live to God, or live with him. A drunken prayer, and a worldly prayer, are alike devout. Therefore Love not the world, nor the things of the world, for so long the love of the Father is not in you; and if you love him not, how should you pray to him? It would be an ill favoured sight, to behold all this Congregation in their work-day cloaths here; how unpleasing a sight to God is it, to see us all with our work-day hearts? Now that you may be rid of an earthly heart, faithfully make use of these directions.
- Get faith, to believe the report God hath given of the world, that all that is in it, is but the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life; a poor vain thing, not able to give the soul a breakfast : this all that have tasted it, and Christ also, do aver, and canst thou find that in it, which none ever found? will it do more for thee, than ever it did for any? Believe its vanity upon God’s Word, ere thou try it by thy sad experience.
Get faith to suck vertue out of Christ’s death to vanquish it. For this is our victory, 1 Ioh. 5.4. that overcometh the world, even our faith. Lay thee down with Christ in the grave by faith, and say then, What is the world? Get faith to believe that eternal happiness, which being once seen by that piercing eye, would so disgrace the world, that all the comforts of it would not weigh a straw in comparison of it If a man lived in the Sun, what a poor mote would the whole earth look? He that lives in Christ, in Heaven, by faith sees all the glories of the earth with a disdainful eye, and cries, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
- You shall be helped against this disease, by deep consideration of the folly and misery of such a frame of heart. It’s folly, for all that is gotten of the world, with the neglect of the soul, invasion of holy duties, or by a carking worldly heart, comes to thee in wrath, will sink thee deeper in hell; or if thou repent, is (most commonly) some way consumed, & vix gaudet tertius haeres, thy grand-child will rue it. If we could penetrate the method of God’s providence, usually those losses you have in this beast, or the other house, or the like, are the just value of what you have gotten by immoderate care, hard dealing with others, or unseasonable contrivance, when your heart should have been better employed. And then the misery of worldly-mindedness, that it pierceth the heart through with many sorrows. Sorrow and pain in getting, sorrow and care in keeping, sorrow and grief in losing. The heart is never at perfect rest. A man would not use his horse, as a worldling doth his heart, gives it no quiet or ease, and all this to no purpose at all. Hab. 2.13. The people labour in the very fire, and weary themselves for very vanity. and may not the consideration hereof be an effectual means to hate this humour? and when it is once hated, it is more than half discharged.
. Have recourse to God by prayer, and therein see and bewail thy former madness; solemnly vow to restore their right to every man thou hast wronged; rather part, like Zacheus, with half thine estate, than with thy whole soul and body; and earnestly cry to the Lord, to encline thy heart to his testimonies, and not unto covetousness, Psal. 119.36. Intreat your heavenly Father, to give you an heavenly heart, and if it come not at first asking, it’s a gift worth going for again; humbly tell him, by vertue of that Covenant, wherein you promised to forsake the world, (which you are now resolved to stick to) his Majesty is bound to give you a mortifi’d and heavenly heart, and you will never leave him, till you have obtained it.
- Charm your hearts from worldly thoughts, when you go to the worship of God. Prov. 16.1, 3. The preparation of the heart is from the Lord— Commit thy ways to him, and thy thoughts shall be established. The Heathen left their shooes at the Temple doors, to intimate, that all earthly affections must be left behind you when you go to speak with God. Do as that great States-man used, who would lay off his Gown, wherein he administred his Office, when he went to worship God, and say, Lie there, Lord Cecil; implying, he would take none of the cares of his Office into the presence of God: So when you go to prayer, reading or hearing, lay aside the world, and say, Lie there house, ye fields lie there; lie there my cares, till I have done with God. So Abraham left his servants and asses, Gen. 22.5. below the hill, and took up nothing but an holy heart, and the materials of his Sacrifice with him thither. Keep still an eye upon your hearts, and both watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation .
THe sixth cause of Distractions in the Worship of God is, Weakness of love to Iesus Christ, and consequently to his Ordinances. Love unites the soul to its object: as Faith is the bond of our mystical, so Love is the bond of our moral union with Christ. The more love to Christ, the more life in his service. Cant. 8.6. Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm: for love is strong as death. Were your love more strong, it would seal up both soul and body, and unite them firmly unto Jesus Christ. Love marries the heart and eye to the object; hence ’tis, there is not a distracting thought in heaven, for there love is perfect: they see, and love, and sing; and praise, and see, enjoy, and love, for ever and ever. The three Disciples, Matth. 17.4. had but an half-quarter glimpse of that state, but their love to their dearest Lord and his presence was so heightned, that the world was forgotten, Ierusalem below, and all their friends and fellow-Disciples forgotten, and they undone to abide there. And if we could by the eye of faith see him that is invisible, and perfectly love him, O how hardly could we spare a by-thought in his presence and service! no, all the world would be forgotten, comforts and crosses all sleep together, while God and our soul were conversing in an Ordinance .
Whence is it that most men can work and care perpetually, and no distractions divert them? discourse their business most orderly, without one alien thought? drive on a bargain an hour together, and think on nothing but what’s pertinent to their present business? Why, they love what they are about, they like it well, and so tongue and heart go together, are wholely taken up therewith. The jovial knot like their company, and nothing shall distract them; the servant comes about necessary business; the master fumes that they will not let him alone; the child comes, and then the wife, but he frets, he rages. And why all this? why, he loves his company, ’tis his delight, his heaven: Even so, the Soul that hath a strong love to a precious Christ, and his Ordinance-presence, doth most heavily bear a distracting thought. The devil cannot pluck him from Christ, but the soul smarts, and when there is this smart at parting, that soul will part but seldom. You have sometimes seen a sucking child, that loves the mother and the breast most dearly; how loth is it to leave it, while it is hungry? how eagerly and angrily it seeks, and cries, and catches hold again? Here’s love . Christ Iesus is the spring of all happiness, and his Ordinances are his breasts, and he that loves the Lord Jesus with all his soul, and all his strength; there he lies, and sucks at the breasts of consolation. This business knocks at door, that trifle tempts him; yet there he sticks and frowns away all his temptations. His love is ardent, Psal. 1.2. His delight is in the Law of the Lord, and then it follows, in that Law doth he meditate day and night. When prayer is your delight, and not your task, then you will dwell therein with complacence, Psal. 43.4. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy. Children are subject to look off their books, because they delight not in them, but when they are playing, they do hoc agere. But now when thy love is cool, and weak, thou lovest Christ, and that’s all; alass, there’s little heart to him, the soul comes heavily to him, and having little delight, and heavenly complacence in him, is most easily drawn off with any distraction: for where the treasure is, there will the heart be also; where God and Christ are a man’s treasure, his heart is with them. He wakes, and travels, and cares, but his heart is with them; he runs through his business with all the haste, that may stand with good speed, that he may retreat to his heart, which he left with God, and then holy duties are the rest of his soul. And where the world, or sin, are a mans treasure, his heart is with them also; he reads, and hears, and prays, but his heart is away: the least noise, business or whisper can fetch him away, alas, his love is cool, and a drop of water will quench a spark of fire .
The Remedies of this weakness of love to Christ and his Ordinances, are,
- Know him better, and meditate more on his real excellencies. Ignoti nulla cupido. Cant. 5.9. What is thy Beloved more than another beloved? Why, ver. 16. His mouth is most sweet, yea, he is altogether lovely; or, as the Heb. all of him is delights. And then mark the reply, chap. 6.1. We will seek him with thee. The pure and orient Sun is no more than a glow-worm to the blind, nor the fairest face than a Skeleton. It is the eye that must affect the heart. Come then, open the eye of Faith, and gaze on this heavenly object: sit down, and meditate who, and what he is; open but the sacred Cabinet of his Attributes, every box full of most sweet perfumes: each of his offices pregnant with true and transcendent comfort. His actions, his passion, his words, his works, and above all, his heart, as full of Heaven as ever it can hold, and full for thee: the breast full running into the open mouth of faith, the Fountain opened for thy sins and uncleanness. The treasures of his grace free for thy supplies, what heart can freez under such discoveries? Nay stay, and look at him on the cross calling thee, arms stretched out to embrace thee, heart opened to let thee in, and deny him thy love if thou can. And if once your hearts be inflamed with his love, no small businesses shall keep you from his presence, nor distract you in it.
- Get communion with Christ in his Ordinances. As he said on another occasion, Ioh. 4.10. If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is— thou wouldest have asked, and he would have given thee living water. So I say, if thou knewest what communion is with Christ, thou wouldest ask after prayer, and long for such opportunities. Why, what is communion with Christ? Why, for thy spirit to flie up into heaven, among the celestial spirits, and for Christ’s Spirit to descend into thy heart. And this makes an heaven upon earth, ’tis inexperience in this, that makes us cool to Christ and holy duties: strangeness makes company burthensome. A King and a beggar, a scholar and a clown, cannot make company of one another. So when there is a distance between God and the soul, there is little longing for his Ordinance, nor true delight in it. Communion with Christ increases love, and love to him promotes communion. Cant. 8.1. O that thou wert my brother, (saith the Spouse) the son of my mother, (there’s ardent love) when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee, (there’s communion) yet should I not be despised. If you did but see his power and glory , your soul would be filled as with marrow and fatness, and your mouth would praise him with joyful lips. Psal. 63.2, 5. One beam of his holiness, love or mercy, would so charm your hearts, that you would be loth to part, and long to meet again; for how can it choose but transport a finite heart, to see and feel the sweetest properties of the infinite God displayed before, and graven on it? When Moses was in near communion with God on the Mount, no thinking of meat, no cares about his tents below, but there he is swallowed up, and is content to melt in that Sun of light and heat, and come down no more; easie to count his distractions in the Mount. O who can see the face of God, and not be ravished therewith• who can behold the beauty of the Lord, and not chuse to dwell in his presence all the days of a mans life? ‘Tis communion with Christ Iesus, that will warm your love to him, and when the King brings you into his chambers, you will be glad and rejoyce in him, you will remember his love more than wine.
- Believe verily that you can be no where better, no where so well as in an Ordinance: this will content and please your minds in the Lord’s service, when you can be no where better; for what company can be better than God’s? The chiefest Good must needs afford the choicest company, who can impart such rare delights and sweet content as he can? and where doth he communicate himself, as in an Ordinance? Say, the world knocks at door, and would have thee away; can vanity entertain you like felicity? can the world produce higher pleasures, than he that made it? Would sin come in, and steal your hearts away? can the chiefest evil create thee sweeter entertainment than the chiefest Good? No, no, you are best where you are. If the world could find you such another Deity, somewhat might be yielded; or give you security, like God, of the reality, satisfaction and duration of its toys, quarter-contents: but alas, there’s no shew for this, you are best where you are. I am conversing with the Lord of heaven and earth, who can reward or ruin me in a moment. I am sucking at the breast of the chiefest Good. I am in the next employment to heaven, in a corner of heaven, I cannot look off yonder lovely One, I will not leave, I must not come down. And this experience would enamour you of an Ordinance, and deliver you from diversions in it; you will sit down under his shadow with great delight, when his fruit is sweet to your taste.
THe seventh cause of wandring of the thoughts in the worship of God, is, want of watchfulness. Matth. 26.41. Watch and pray , are most necessary companions, else shall we fall into temptation. In those sad times of plague, the faithful Guard stands at the City gates, and the dangerous passenger for all his importunity is stopp’d and turn’d again: Why? perhaps the plague comes with him, and therefore the Halbard salutes his breast, he comes not there; the neglect of this care would soon lay waste the land. So if any stragling thought, perhaps with the plague in it, shall enter at pleasure into the soul, especially while the Lord’s service is in hand, no wonder that soul lies waste, Lord have mercy may be written on that door.
- The neglect of watchfulness before holy duties causes distractions; and that is, by not heeding to order your affairs with discretion for God’s service . When you involve your selves in too much business, too much for your head, too much for your time, or too much for your strength, then worldly thoughts will get place, you cannot help it. Or, when men are unadvised in their business, in not chusing a fit time for duties, and thereby your business and God’s shoulder one another, and neither is done well. And therefore we are commanded, 1 Pet. 4.7. to watch unto prayer. As Satan watches to cross and indispose us, by throwing some diverting and cooling occasions, so is it our wisdom to counter-watch him. Indeavour to time your businesses, and especially your duties. It is the character of a good man, Psal. 112.6. that he orders his affairs with discretion, and renders every thing beautiful in its time For its a true observation, that an indiscreet ordering of Saturdays business, hath great in•luence into the unprofitableness of the Sabbath’s Ordinances.
- Neglect of watchfulness in holy duties. Our hearts, so far as unregenerate, are fetch’d into holy duties, as a prest souldier into the field: he is brought in against his will, no principle of courage, or love to his country: he had rather be digging or idling at home. Now such a souldier, what trust can you repose in him, if he be not watch’d? he steals away at every lanes end, and in the midst of the battel, you shall be sure to miss him; a constant eye must keep him, or you lose him. ‘Tis just so with our naughty hearts, if there be not a predominant principle of grace, ’tis not choice but use that brings them in, they would rather be carking or trifling about any thing, than busie in prayer, and therefore if you neglect to watch them at every turn, no sentence end but they will steal away. For prayer without watching is but a meer complement. Where the tongue goes one way, and the heart another, that’s a complement, and such is a watchless duty. It is said, the Nightingale in her sweetest notes is apt to fall asleep; to prevent which, she settles her self on a bough, with a thorn at her breast, that when she begins to nod, that sharp monitor may awake her. The holiest Saint is apt to nod, and steal away in the midst of his solemnest duties; if God’s Spirit do not aurem vellere, quicken his watch. Christ’s own Disciples, even just after a Sacrament, were overtaken for want of this, Matth. 26.40. What, could ye not watch with me one hour? And if they fell asleep at prayer for want of watching, how can you keep close to God without it, that have neither so good a monitor without, nor so good an heart within?
- Neglect of watchfulness after duties causes distractions in the next that follow; people use to let loose their hearts, when the Duty ends, and unlace themselves for ease; and then their thoughts take liberty . Which our deceitful hearts fore seeing, no cords will bind them to a good behaviour in the very duties themselves; whereas, were there a constant watch kept up after our duties were done, and conscience made of our thoughts all the day long, we should contain our hearts in better order, while God’s worship lasts. The fore-sight, and especially fore-tastes of liberty approaching, sets the soul madding, thereupon, and we cannot keep it in. Besides, Religion is concatenated, hath a dependance one thing upon another, and it is unsufferable to take and leave where we will. If vain thoughts lodge with you at other times, they will visit you at your business, and if they be entertained when you have a mind, they will press in when you have no mind.
The Remedy against this neglect is, To be throughly convinc’d of the absolute necessity of constant watchfulness, Prov. 4.23. Keep thy heart with all diligence, as a castle is kept from scaling, an house from robbing, or a Jewel from defacing, so the Criticks; and all these are kept constantly, one hours negligence would hazard any of them — And then with all diligence, Heb. with all keeping, or as some, above all keeping. The eye we watch from harm all the day, the vitals we defend and guard with constant care; we know that a touch there is mortal; but above all keeping keep the soul: Be perswaded, that watchfulness is as necessary as prayer; you think, without prayer you shall go to hell, and I aver, that without watchfulness you cannot go to heaven. Mans life in this sense is a continued Ordinance. Hos. 12.6. wait on thy God continually; not only at thy prayers, but at thy plough; while on your knees you are waiting on God, and when you rise from your knees, you are going to wait on him in your calling, and an unbecoming thought is displeasing to him every where; he is sensible of an affront in the kitchen as well as in the parlour, and hates vanity all the day long. 1 Pet. 4.7. Be sober, and watch unto prayer. Sober and watch, as if they that do not watch are mad. To watch unto prayer is duty, as well as to watch in it. He that watches not to duties, doth not do his duty: a wise Christian should have always something in store for God; work and look at God, eat, and drink, and talk, and still look at God, and at the soul . This is to w•lk with God all the day long. As the careful Bee must needs leave her hive, and fly abroad, but she dwells no where else, she lights on this •lower, and then on that, exhausts their sweetness, deflowers them, and gets away; she never rests till she return to her hive, there she rests and enjoys her self. So an holy heart must needs out into the world, and business must be done, but he rests at nothing, till he return to the enjoyment of God again, no flower gives him content, no business, no company satisfies, but he retires to God, looks at him, and is lightned, and steps out again. This, Sirs, this is the Religion of Religion. I know it’s hard, but it’s possible, the ice is broken for you, and the way is trodden. Act. 24.16. Herein do I exercise my self, to have always a conscience void of offence. It’s my daily trade and business to keep my soul, that I neither offend God nor man. If you will make a trade on’t, you may do it. God never calls for duty, but helps in it. Phil 4.13. I can do all things through Christ. God and his servant can do any thing.
THe eighth cause of distractions in holy duties is , A beloved sin. When the soul hath espoused some bosome lust, the thoughts (be you never so busie) will be warping towards it, though God himself look on. Ier. 4.14. O Ierusalem, wash thy heart from wickedness,— how long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee? When wickedness is in the heart, vain thoughts will be in thy duties; they will enter, yea, they will lodge within thee. A beloved sin is like a byass on the bowl, though you throw it out never so streight, yet the byass will draw it off that way, do what you can: so is a beloved sin unto the soul; aim you with utmost skill, yet there is a secret load stone in it, that attracts the heart, and makes that prayer to end in hell, that began in heaven. Either sin and you must be at a distance, or God and you will. The soul that is in league with sin, dare not come at God, dare not look at him, dare not think on him; and what must that man think on in a duty, that dare not think seriously on God? As that penitent Father speaks in his confessions. An unmortifi’d soul (like the husband of a scolding wife, had rather be any where than at home, and makes many a sad bargain abroad, because he hath no comfort at home with his wife; so such an heart) chooses to be thinking of any thing rather than God ; alas, matters are not straight between them, the poison of sin is in him, and he hugs that abhominable thing which God hates; the Thief had rather go forty miles another way, than come near the Judge; God is an offended Judge to a wilful sinner, and he cares not for ever coming near him. Hence, Heb. 10.22. Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience. He that comes to God with a true upright honest heart, being sprinkled from an evil conscience, may draw near to God in full assurance of faith; whereas guilt clouds, clogs and distracts the soul. So that you see both the gu•lt and power of a bosom sin, furnish us with too much cause of distractions. Sin, That would have all the heart; and God, He will have all or nothing. It’s such an offering, that is a whole burnt-offering, that the Lord delights in. As no subject is capable of two contrary qualities, in the intense degree, (as heat and cold may be both in the same hand, but not in their intense degrees) so the heart of man cannot entertain Christ and corruption, light and darkness, except the one be loved and served superlatively above the other. Psal. 66.18. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. God first stops his ear above, and then the sinners mouth below, that regards iniquity, that likes, loves, approves, or gives it rest and quiet in the soul. Indeed God neither regards him, nor doth such a soul regard God. He must love God, that is lively in his service. Iob 27.10. Will he delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God? will he always? he may now and then send a thought that way in his special need, but not always: there’s difference between converse and communion. One may have converse or traffick with a stranger upon occasion, but communion is with a friend, there’s visits of pure kindness: an hypocrite may have some converse, or trading with God for necessaries, but sweet communion, constant calling on God, and serious duties he can never enjoy and follow, that loves any sin before the chiefest Good.
The Remedies against a beloved sin are briefly these two.
- Consideration: sit down and think what real good, this sin hath ever done thee. Think what hurt it hath done thee and others: and what fruit but shame and death it brings to any. Thy dearest sin is but sin, which is the worst thing in the world, and its masks and disguises being laid aside, more ugly than the devil, more horrid than hell it self. And think, the more thou lovest it, the more God hates it, and his rage and jealousie is increased with the increase of thy desires. Think how many prayers it hath lost thee, how many mercies it hath poison’d to thee, how many smiles it hath clouded, besides what unutterable sufferings it hath inflicted upon Christ, and is preparing for thee in hell. Consider, that thou maist have as much joy, happiness and true comfort without it, and all converted sinners confess, that Jesus Christ hath been better to them than all their sins; and if you may have as good injoyments, or better, to have Christ with them, and Heaven after them, will not make them worse.
- Supplication : Kneel down and pray with faith, in the uprightness of your hearts, for strength from above. All the strength of Heaven is engag’d by prayer. He that heartily sets himself against his sin by prayer, cannot but dislike it, and when it is truly disliked, its heart is broken.
Augustine complains, that when he in his unconverted estate begged a divorce from his sin, his heart was afraid, lest God should hear his prayers. Beware lest your hearts secretly cry Spare, when your tongues openly cry, Lord, kill and crucifie my corruption: but do thou bonâ fide pull on earth, and the Lord will bono Spiritu, pull from Heaven, and rent thy sin and soul asunder. Otherwise, as the Poets tell us of Hippomanes, that running with Atalanta for victory, he conquered by throwing golden apples down; which Atalanta stooping to take up, lost the prize; so Satan seeing the soul running heaven-ward in God’s service, will throw down the gilded temptations of a beloved sin, stop it in its carreer, and hazard the prize of eternal glory.
A Ninth cause of Distractions in the Worship of God, is, Satan . And this he doth sometimes more remotely, by throwing in some cross business before Duties, whereby the soul is unhinged: some body, or Letter with business, just before prayer; or some passionate distempering passages in the family, whereby to lay matter ready for our discomposure, and wandrings in the following duties. Sometimes he approaches nearer, and by presenting and occasioning objects to our senses in God’s Worship, draws off the heart: He can stay One long from the Congregation, that Another may be distracted in observing him coming in, and so wounds two, and sometimes twenty at a blow: Satan is not idle, when this and that child are restless and unquiet in the family; whereby perhaps all in the family lose the passages that would most profit them. He can create a further distraction by every pillar and part of the structure, and every person in the congregation; and can be content you read sentences on the walls, to hinder and divert your s•uls from the sentences in the pulpit. Yea, he often approaches nearer, and works immediately upon the Fancy, upon which he can imprint a thousand notions, most strange and incoherent many times, to steal the heart from God, for we are not ignorant (the more is our sorrow) of his devices. Hence we have him, Iob 1.6. When the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, coming also among them. And being questioned, tells his business is to go to and fro in the earth, and to walk up and down in it; as if he walked only out of curiosity, or for some charitable end. But as our Lord Iesus went up and down, doing good; this was his work from morning to night: so the Devil walks up and down, doing evil. He is in every pue, at every elbow, throwing in his fire-balls, and enticing poor souls to commit folly with him; and when God is treating with the soul about Heaven and Hell then comes He and thrusts the World between, or some vanity therein, to break the treaty, and spoil that sacred conference; so that of all roads, no road is so full of thieves as the road to Heaven.
And though to give the Devil but his due, we can make shift to be bad enough in an Ordinance without him, yet he waits there no doubt to make us worse: what else should bring thoughts then into our head, that have never come there, in a month or year before? who else should suggest such horrid atheistical thoughts, when we are pinch’d with convictions, and move us to question all, when any thing pursues us? Ephes. 6.12. We wrestle against spiritual wickedness in heavenly things or employments. The devil is wickedness in the abstract, when we are about heavenly work. Never did the crafty Cheat watch and spie, how to defraud and slur the innocent Merchant, while he is receiving his cash, as Satan lies at catch in the Worship of God, to purloin from us the true treasure, that should make the soul rich. Especially that Prayer, or Chapter, or Sermon, that should do thee most good, or most destroy his Kingdom, will he be most busie in. When the High Priest was interceding for the poor Church, then Satan stood at his right hand to resist him: hence our solemnest Duties, often have the saddest Distractions, and such as have no coherence nor reason for them; but arrows, fiery darts, shot out of the Devils own quiver. What a sort of them have I in the very writing hereof, and what long parenthesis between every sentence, and you perhaps will not want, while you are reading, yea, it may be, (as the body, when the humours are stirred by Physick, is worse, so) he will be busiest to divert and trouble your hearts, while the cure is working. But when your heart is prepared before, and watchful in your Duty, though yours be the sorrow, that you have the womb that bare them; yet his will be the guilt, because he is the father that begets them.
The Remedy against Satan’s distracting us in God’s Worship, is, that of Christ’s own prescribing, Matth. 26.41. Watch and Pray, lest ye enter into temptation. Stand upon your guard, give no heed to his suggestions. As you run to the water with the bucket, to quench a spark of fire in the thatch; so drop a tear of contrition upon this spark of temptation. Treat not with these thoughts, but dismiss them unregarded, and by some short ejaculation call in thy friend, to countermine thine enemy. And still watch and pray. And pray and watch, and always remember, that we have as much need of the strength of Christ for assistance, as the merit of Christ for acceptance in every duty. And be sure to cast out his injections with disdain and hatred. Nam superbus est spiritus, & non patitur contemptum. He is a very proud piece, and cannot endure contempt. The stronger is your resistance, the longer will he stay away; and the more you hate his motions, the less mind he’l have to offer them. The devil is like that Sanballat, Nehem. 6.2. &c. that sent to Nehemia, who was busie in the work of the Lord; And I (saith Nehemia) sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down; why should the work cease, whilst I leave it and come down to you? Yet they sent messengers unto me four times after this sort, and I answered them after the same manner. Come, says Satan, let’s meet and confer, here’s a notion and here’s a business, you must needs discuss this. Nay, say thou, I am doing a great work for Eternity. As that gallant Painter, being demanded a reason of his exact curiosity in his work, answered, Pingo eternitati, I paint to last for eternity. So, I am doing a work for eternity, I am pleading the cause that runs for life or death; so that I cannot hearken to thee. Why should my great work cease, while I leave it and come down? Alas, this business will go no farther than it’s lifted at. I am rowing upon a River, if I trifle or nod a little, I go down again . I have a business on the wheel, that cannot be le•t a minute. If I look away, my iron burns, and I suffer loss. Yet he’l send messengers over and over again, as Sanballat did; but still answer them after the same manner. Discourage him, and break his heart with thine obstinate resolution; Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
THE Tenth Cause of Distractions in our Lords service is, Vain thoughts at other times. For,
- These displease and disengage the spirit of God; without whose help these Infirmities will crowd in upon us. If you should lodge your noble friend, whom Love only moves to visit you, in the same room with a nasty beggar, may not he take it for a plain affront, and refuse to come near or help you in your need? even so the holy Ghost, your Noblest Friend will take it ill, to be pack’t into a room with base and beggarly thoughts, and may justly deny that presence and assistance, which we have need of; and without Gods spirit helping us, we cannot pray as we ought, nor keep out Distractions with all our skill. Rom. 8.26. The spirit helpeth our infirmities, and these wandrings are some of those infirmities, which the spirit must help us about, yea and will, if he be not disobliged, but it is far from likely, that we should have that sacred Spirit at our beck in Duty, whom we have distasted all the day long. How justly may He say, as it is Jer. 11.15. What hath my beloved to do in my house? or, as the Margent, what is to my beloved in my house, seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many? As if he should say, I know not what to do with thee in my house, or what thou hast to do with me, having roved so extreamly with thy heart from me, and been lewd with many. Remember it is the Holy Ghost, who hates a sinful thought any time of day. That man must walk with God in the Day, that will have God draw nigh to him at Night.
- These dispose and naturalize the soul to roving. Habit is a second nature , and it is almost as hard to wash an Ethiopian white, as to break an evil custome. Jer. 13.23. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the Leopard his spots, then may ye also do (or think) good, that are accustomed to Evil. If a man be used to ill company, and link’t in with them, though he sometimes resolve better, yet when they come, away he must go with them against his purpose. Perhaps you have resolved against these vain wandrings in Gods service, but being us’d to them, they call at door, and take you captive away against your intention. And therefore set up a constant watch against them, for Religion is link’t together in the power and practicals of it. So that you must take all, or leave all; be a Christian allwayes and altogether, or not at all. It is said of that accursed Mahomet that he had used a Dove to come to his Ear, and thence to eat her commons, And so when the falling sickness surprized him, his pigeon presently came to her repast, which he feigned to be the holy Ghost or an Angel, that told him the mysteries of his Religion: my beloved, if these fowls, these evil Angels be used to your ear or heart, they will come even in your most coelestial imployments, and divert and distract you: and hereby they become less strange, and things that are familiar to us, though ugly, are not started at; nay treble diligence will not dispel them, if you give them ordinary entertainment. If a way be made over your corn or ground, and people used to come that way, it must be an higher hedge than ordinary, that must keep them off. If vain thoughts have made a road over thy heart, and use to come that way without controll, it must be a very high and strong watch and resistance, that will turn them by, in holy Duties. Prov. 35.28. He that hath no rule over his own spirit, is like a City that is broken down and without Walls.
- These vain thoughts at other times make us apprehend it more impossible to conquer, and less sinfull to be conquered by them. And when Distractions appear so powerful that there is no resisting them, or so harmless that they are not worth our trouble to resist them, then is a floodgate opened to let them in: when once our courage is conquered, or our Conscience is feared, we are quite undone. And thus you see that one sin ushers in another, and the loosness of our heart at one time, prepares it to be so another. Even as you observe your Children (’tis the comparison of one that hath the skill of simile•s) they are more unruly before strangers, or at times when they should be most demure, than at other times: and you are then, more aware and troubled at their shrewd words and gestures, than the whole year besides: Alas, It is not meerly, that they are worse then, but then you take more notice of it, it is then most observeable and apparent, though their carriage be much at one: So it is with your Hearts; O (cry you) I am more pestred with foolish thoughts in Prayer or Sermon, than all the day or week besides• Then my Heart is worst, when it should be best. Alas! its naught all along, it do’s but as it is used to do, only you observe it not at other times, and now observe it a little and find it out, but its alwayes so.
- These do infect the memory , and imprint such species and notions there, as offer and produce themselves, when we are in the service of God And so when a good man out of the good treasure of his heart should bring forth good things. He stumbles upon the vain and unprofitable trash, before laid up in his memory, to the grie• of Gods spirit, and hazard of his own. The memory, you know, will most easily retain an impertinent story, a filthy or foolish imagination a long time, and then when an Idle heart hits upon it, (though God himself looks on) that will run away with the heart, and give both matter and strength to a long, woful, and wandring Distraction.
How doth the active Fancy in our sleep sometimes light upon some sorry thoughts we had in the day, and take them by the end, and spin them out into a very sinfull Dream? and this, Casuists say, we are responsible for though it seem involuntary: because we administred matter for it, and remotely promoted it: so we shall be found guilty before God, even of our unwilling wandring in Gods service, because we laid up for them before. If we brew for them, Satan will be sure to broach them.
- These idle thoughts, at other times, provoke God to give us up to our own inventions. As that dreadful word, Hos. 4.17. Ephraim is joyned to Idols, let him alone. Seeing he will be marryed to them, and forsake me, let him take them. If a man be resolved upon Idols or any other sin, God will not hinder him. So when he finds the heart joyned, taken up, and pleased with vain thoughts; Good motions knock and wait, but are not accepted or heeded; come and knock again with double earnestness, How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee? but are not regarded, sin and the heart are making merry within; come and try once more, open now or never; And no answer, nay, now the Soul is joyned to these things, let him alone. Sleep on now, and take thy rest. Trouble him no more in his vain inventions. So I gave them over, Psal. 81.12. To their own hearts lust, and they walked in their own counsels. If they choose Hell before Heaven, let them take it. My Spirit shall not alwayes strive with man. And now when the Soul is given up to a vagabond frame, then thy weak purposes, and faint watchfulness over it stand for nothing, but are broken like Sampsons cords; and a deluge of all manner of impertinencies breaks in, and the Heart is prostituted to all temptations.
The Remedy against these idle thoughts out of Duties is,
- A right understanding what a vain thought is. Though it sound somewhat harsh, that all thoughts are either good or bad, the matter of some being in itself indifferent; yet if we consider the Principle and Tendency of them, we shall hardly light upon one individual thought, but it hath either the stamp of Good or Evil upon it. It is certain, that a wicked mans thoughts are all vain, as they come from him, neither flowing from a sanctified heart, nor being directed to a Divine end. Ah poor sinners, your hearts are little worth, the imaginations of them are materially or formally or finally evil, only evil and that continually. The sweetest words from corrupt lungs do stink in the nostrills of them that stand by, and so your best thoughts coming from corrupt hearts, cannot be right in the sight of God.
And then for a gracious man, it should seem every thought comes either from the old man or the New, the regenerate or unregenerate part, especially if we consider that there is hardly a thought but it may be resolved ultimately either into Christ or Self, Let it therefore be concluded, that every thought that is not suggested, or directed by the Spirit of God, and that no way conduceth to the glory of God, the good of your neighbour, nor the good of your own soul or body, is a vain thought, vain or void, it might be spared, it stands for nothing, its worse than nothing.
- Be throughly convinced that vain thoughts are Sins ; They are not free from the Law of God, though they be free from the lash of man. The Rabbins had a strange exposition of that, Psa. 66.18. If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear me; they read it thus, If iniquity do but remain within the heart (be not produced into act) God will not regard it; and so the Pharisees of the Decalogue, as if God had only forbidden the outward acts of sin; but there is nothing more contrary to the nature of God, or of his Law, or of the souls of men than this. I wonder how they could over-look all these direct passages in the Old Testament, Levit. 19.17. Thou shalt not hate thy Brother in thy heart. — Thou shalt not say in thy heart, and innumerable such. No, no thoughts are words before God, Ezek. 11.5. I know the things that come into your mind, every of them. What is sin• but a deviation or transgression of the Law of God? and this is a woful thing. Sin even in a thought is a woful thing; Nay, words and actions are as it were sins at second hand; the very first life, and freshest vigour of all ill, is immediately inspired into the thoughts. Hence it is that Peter adviseth Simon Magus to pray to God, if it were possible, that the thoughts of his heart might be forgiven him; as though there lay the greatest guilt, and deepest stain before God . Alas, one vain thought would bring down the highest Angel into the lowest Hell: and that which would damn an Angel, will damn thee, except thou repent. If millions of Angels have fallen by a sinful thought, and yet thou standest under the guilt of many, thank Free Grace, and the Death of Christ for that; but yet thy sin is still as bad, and thou hadst need to cleanse the filthiness of the spirit, as well as of the flesh.
- Daily winde up your spiritual watch, and renew your Covenants with God in prayer. Draw all your parts and faculties into Covenant, Iob 31.1. I made a Covenant with my eyes. Why then should I think upon a Maid? Behold the blessed purity of this mans heart! Neither eye nor thought of his should wander after a Maid; and this he vows. Though good purposes are the shifts of Hypocrites, whose Covenants to God are like ropes of Sand, broken as soon as made; yet when they are accompanied with repentance for former falls, and hearty indeavour for future performance, no better sign of an upright Christian. Know, that constant watchfulness is a duty; that as Nature hath provided a cover for the eye, so Grace hath prepared watchfulness for the soul; and as it would be a fearful sight to see an eye without a lid, it would soon be put out; so it is a fearful and dangerous thing to keep a soul without its case, without its watch, Prov. 23.17. Let not thy heart envy (or imitate) sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long; not only at prayer-times, but all the day long. Be sure that every morning you sincerely and solemnly relieve your watch, by new purposes and prayers, and then when vain thoughts offer to come in, you may say, I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous Iudgements. And labour, that all your thoughts may hold weight with that excellent Scripture, Phil. 4.8. Finally, Brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
- Repent thoroughly and heartily for them. For as Humiliation without Reformation, is a foundation without a building; so Reformation without Humiliation, is a building without a foundation, which the next wind of temptation will throw down. To wash the heart, (mark, it must not be swept only) in the brinish •ears of Repentance, is the way to dislodge vain thoughts from within you, Jer. 4.18. If you felt the smart and bitter pangs of true Repentance to night for your vain thoughts, it would affright and mortifie the heart from them to morrow; you would have no mind to tamper with the vanities that cost you so dear: The burnt child would dread the fire, and the fresh remembrance of the heart-ach you had for these guests last day, would bolt them out from coming in to day. If our sins did cost us in David’s sense, broken bones, we should not so easily sin again. If the Scholar, after his truanting, stole to his place unobserv’d and uncorrected, he will easily venture on his freaks again to morrow; but if he tasted the Rod, the smart he felt, will somewhat warm and keep him from such follies again. Ah Sirs! our Repentance is easie, and our confessions complements; we forgive our selves, ere God forgive us; we can lick our selves whole, without the cost of a tear or sigh, and then we are ready for a sin again: He that finds it easie to repent, will not find it hard to sin. Verbal Repentance will never cure you of real sins. It is your sad thoughts that will prevent your vain ones, and idle thoughts are best excluded by keeping the heart full of good ones.
THe Eleventh Cause of wandring thoughts in the Ordinances of God, is, a divided heart, James 1.6.8. For he that wavereth, is like a wave of the Sea, driven with the wind and tossed. The forlorn picture of a roving heart, carryed up and down, as the wind of any temptation pleaseth: The Cause, ver. 8. A double mind: A double minded man is unstable in all his waies. The word signifies one that hath two souls; one that speaks with a double heart, Psal. 12.2. Like that prophane Piece, that bragged he had two souls in one body; one for God, the other for any thing that came. This man is the unstable man in God’s service, off and on with God, unfixed to his business, knows not what he would have, prayes and unprayes, wants faith for the ballast of his soul, and so is carried at the pleasure of every wave; and then ver. 7. is the misery o• this frame. Let not this man think that he shall obtain any thing of the Lord; that is (as some) though God may answer such requests out of his superabundant mercy, yet such a man can look for nothing. Though a distracted prayer may receive something, yet it cannot expect any thing from God; when a mans supplication is a provocation, there is little hope: He that puts treason into his petition, has little reason to hope for a good answer.
How an heart may be said to be divided in a duty these waies:
- When all the heart is not ingaged therein; as when understanding or conscience without the will or affections. This opens a door unto distractions, Eph. 6.6. Doing the Will of God from the heart, with good will doing service as to the Lord, and not to men. Half an heart can do nothing with God. A man may as well with one eye observe the stars, and with the other measure the Earth at the same time, as at once dispatch affairs with God and man. Hereby both businesses are spoiled: Conscience of God hinders from any discreet and serious contrivance of any thing in his presence; and tampering with the world, provokes God, and hinders the affairs above. Our Lord Christ is most peremptory in that case: Ye cannot serve two Masters, the one will be over-served, ye cannot serve God and Mammon.
- The heart may be said to be divided, when it is unfixed and indeterminate; wavering and unsetled. A duty to God is shooting at an hairs breadth; if a man be uncertain and unsteady, how shall he hit the mark? Psal. 57.7. O God, my heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed, I will sing and give praise. Now the work is likely to go on. You cannot (it seems) so much as sing a Psalm, or give the Lord praise without this fixedness of heart. As you have seen the Needle in a Compass, waver up and down perpetually, till it point towards the North, then it is fixed and standeth still: so until the soul be composed, and bent directly towards God, it wanders, and trifles everlastingly.
- The heart is divided by Hypocrisie, Iames 4.8. Purifie your hearts, ye double minded. As he speaks to open sinners to cleanse their hands, so to close Hypocrites, to purifie their hearts, that is, be sincere: An Hypocrite is a man of two hearts, and both little worth; one good one is worth a thousand pair of double hearts. Hence holy David, Psal. 86.11. Unite my heart to fear thy Name, else I shall have one heart to move me towards thee, and another heart to fetch me back again. One heart for God, another for Baal, and so shall halt between them.
- The heart is divided, when you perform not his service with all your might and strength, Ier. 48.10. Cursed is he that doth the work of the Lord negligently, loosely, that unbends his bow, that unstrings his heart in the Lord’s service . He that is studying with all his might, the least noise or word distracts him, and troubles him• he cannot admi• or abide the least diversion: So he that is intent with all his might in God’s service, cannot give room for the least by thought. No, I am before the Lord, and I can do but little, but I’le do what I can, Psal. 103.1. Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, praise his holy Name. And this leads us to the Remedy for this Cause.
The Remedy for a divided heart is, get sincerity and seriousness. And indeed the soul that is sincere, is serious. The real Beggar begs in good earnest, he cries, he weeps, he heeds not the playing of the children, the barking of the doggs, not he; his wants pinch him, his stomach pulls and craves, nothing but meat will please him: There’s musick perhaps within, and company without, but all’s one to him, he is not concerned therewith, he’s hungry in good earnest, and therefore still he cries for bread: So it is with the upright and serious heart, he is really and deeply prest down with sin, and needy of grace and comfort; he sees the reality of invisible things; he fears the anger of God, and feels his broken bones, & therefore let the Devil, or the world, distribute what they can, or suggest what they will, he plyes this 〈◊〉 must have pa•don and grace• and the light of the Lord’s countenance: It is not the stirring of a feather can unhinge him, for he is in good earnest, Ier. 30 21. For who is this that hath engaged his heart, to draw, nigh to me, saith the Lord. Where sits that man, that gives a heart to God? the Lord cryes, who? O let every one that hears or reads this, cry out, Lord, it is I; and when the heart, the whole heart is engaged in a duty, then work goes on. There’s a vast difference between the pleading of an Orator, and the pleading of a Malefactor: The former hath perhaps a more smooth, elegant and starcht discourse, but he handles it with a light finger; a friend, a fee would take him off; but the Malefactor that pleads for his life, he sweats, he cryes, he begs, the Judge interrupts him, but he goes on; the Jaylor stops his mouth, but he will proceed; all the Court cannot distract his mind from his business, his heart is wholly in it. And so it is with a sincere and serious Saint: He can truly say, Lord, thou hast more of my heart, than ever any creature in the world had; my heart is fixed, I am set upon this affair : The great matters I am about, I neither can live, nor dare die without them, and therefore blame me not to be busie. It is the dear prayer that prevails, the prayer that costs us dear.
THE Twelfth Cause of wandring Thoughts in God’s Worship, is, an opinion that there is no great evil in them; which partly proceeds from that Notion, that thoughts are free, or at least, that no sin is really sin, except it be voluntary, and these are without consent; partly from our being used to greater sins, which do widen the conscience to digest these lesser ones, without any staying: And partly from the commonness of them, being the snares wherein we are most frequently taken; and the oftener they walk thorow the heart, the less strange are they there; the more familiar they are, the more apology we have for them; and so usually it becomes no sin, that we have a mind unto .
And now, when there is bred in the soul, an opinion that there is no evil, or next to none therein; the heart is pleased with th••, and merrily playes with those baits, till by the hidden hook it’s caught in the hidden snare of the Devil. To rectifie this mistake,
- Somewhat must be granted. The evil in these wandring thoughts, is not so great, as in many other sins: these do not vastare conscientiam, lay the conscience waste, as some others, especially these roving thoughts, as are rather injected, than contrived; the matter whereof is good, not evil, and which are short and sorrowed for: But who will swallow a Spider, and say, there is not so much poyson in this as in a Toad; or break his legg, and say, there is not such danger therein, as in breaking the neck? even so, it is a poor plea to say, these peccadillo’s, trivial things are not like oaths, and murders, and oppression, &c. But these are great enough to displease God, to bind guilt upon the soul, to prepare for greater, and bid fair for Hell.
- Something must be answered, as namely, 1. That though our thoughts are free from the notice of men on Earth, or Satan in Hell, further than they are imprinted in the body or actions; though they are free from the punishment of humane Laws, yet are they not free from the eye, nor Law, nor wrath of God, as you heard in divers instances before, and particularly in the case of Simon Magus, Act. 8.22. And 2. That other Notion is corrupt, that nothing is culpable that is involuntary: It’s true, this doth extenuate a fault, but this doth not extinguish it: ’tis a less fault in that ca•se• but it is a fault , for the understanding may be depraved, as well as the will; and we are really guilty in Adam’s sin, though we had no previous consent therein. It is a fault, that we are capable subjects for such sinful injections, though we yield not to them; for there is something in us that incourages those attempts: the Angels met with none of these. The will lyes dormant when we are asleep, and yet Casuists say, there wants no sin, even in our dreams; for the fancy and the memory may be corrupted, as well as the will; and therefore it follows, these wandring thoughts may be against God’s Will, though they be besides our own. And 3. For our accustomedness to greater sins, and frequency in those, that signifies little herein: for crimes do not excuse faults. The Stars are the same in the firmament all day, though while the Sun shines, they appear not; when the Sun is retired, they will shew themselves: while your greater staring sins appear, these are nothing; but if ever a night of terrour come upon you, then each of these will shine in its proper guilt, in the eye of conscience. And then 4. The commonness of them adds to their sinfulness, though it take from your sense thereof. If your neighbour for a time break over your hedge, and tread your corn, the matter is soon put up, ’tis but a trespass by chance; but if he daily use it, and make it his way, you think it’s intolerable: So if a wandring thought stole in once a week, it were a less offence; but if they will transgress, and make a way over God’s ground, spoil his Garden often in every day, this makes the sin the greater, though the sense of it be the less .
- Something must be advised for cure. And that is, 1. A true knowledge, and deep sense of the nature of sin, whereby you will see, that no sin can be little; that there is more evil in the least sin, in a vain thought, than in all the world besides. Hence, saith God, Ier. 6.19. Behold I will bring evil upon this people even the fruit of their thoughts. All the possible sorrows that can tear the mind and soul; all the sickness and sores that can be inflicted on every part of the body; all the mischiefs that can sink thy name and estate, (put them all together) amount not to that real evil, that is in the least sin . For it is an offence to God, displeasing him whom the Angels study to please, and would not offend for ten thousand worlds. Psal. 51.4. Against thee, thee only have I sinned. The greatest evil in sin, is that ’tis against God; by it you provoke the highest Majesty, displease the sweetest Nature, and offend your chiefest Friend. And if I know a little thing will offend such a person, I am a wretch, for a little thing to offend so great and good a friend. Might not Adam have argued thus, ’tis but an Apple, there can be no great hurt in this; what’s this to breed a jarr between God and me? and yet we have found that little Figg or Apple, a great sin. Here was all, God was disobeyed, his Will opposed, his Soveraignty and Mercy trodden under foot; and this is the nature of sin: whereof, if the soul have a deep sense, it will excuse no longer, but frighted at the hideous look thereof, fly even into the fire to escape it, Psal. 119.113. I hate vain thoughts: but thy Law do I love. I not only avoid them, but I hate them; I see a sinning evil in them, I see a damning evil in them. I hate vain thoughts; not only wicked, wanton, revengeful, proud, or blasphemous thoughts, but vain thoughts; empty thoughts fill me with grief . Natural conscience may abhor the former, but a soft heart can only oppose the latter. And there is the means he used; Thy Law do I love; he that loves a pure Law, cannot but hate a vain thought.
- You must apprehend the evils, yea, the great evils that are in this sin. For though we grant, there is more of poison in some other crimson sins, and in some distractions more than others, yet there is much evil in the least of these; which, on purpose to whet and ripen your most serious resolutions against them, (and see they attain that effect) I shall now in the seventh place discover:
CHAP. VII. The Evil of Distractions.
THE Evil of Distractions, is, 1. In their Nature. 2. In their Effects. Take the former in these demonstrations.
- These distractions in God’s Worship, are sins against the first Table. And these proportionably are ever greater than those against the second. Though the offence of them be properly against the second Commandment, yet they have a fling against every precept of the first Table . For how doth he acknowledge God, that in his very presence offends him? or how dost thou honour, love and delight in him, as the chiefest Good, when thou startest aside from converse with him, to parley with the world and sin? There’s the first Commandment broken. Do you worship him according to his will, that thus worship him? If material Images be cast off, and spiritual fornication committed, ye are still breakers of that Commandment. A graven Image in the mind, a worldly or wicked fancy there, where Christ should be, cannot but provoke him to be very angry. There’s the second Commandment broken. And these manifestly break the third Commandment, being a palpable taking his great Name in vain. To speak of God, and think of the world: to hold discourse with him, and think of your lusts, is an high taking his Name in vain. As if the wife should be speaking busily with her husband, and at the same time looking at the picture of the Paramour, what rage would this beget in her husband’s heart? To make the Name of God a cloak for the things, the nothings of the world, for the worst thing sin, is the saddest sacriledge; and for which he will not hold you guiltless, if he find you griefless. And then the fourth Commandment is broken by a plain rape, and theft committed of God’s holy time; that which you destinate, at your kneeling down to his service, is purloyned away by these roving thoughts, especially when they invade the Sabbath. For when you seem to give him much, in effect it comes to nothing; sift out the bran of your wandring thoughts, and the flower of cordial service will be next to nothing. And so your time is lost, your duty lost, and danger of your souls loss after all. And thus you see the first Table broken at a blow: It is a sad blow that breaks four Commands at once.
THE second Evil in their Nature, is, That they are heart-sins, Psal. 5.9. There is no faithfulness in their mouths, their inward part is very wickedness. As wounds in the inwards are most dangerous, because hard to come at and cure. Hence it is far easier to cure a swearer of swearing, than a roving heart of its distractions. And as these sins are more dangerous, so are they very displeasing. The heart is God’s-Acre, the inclosure he keeps for his own walk and delight. He hath said, Prov. 23.26. My Son, give me thy heart. Now to injure him of his peculiar, to lay the filthy excrements of our sinful distractions under his most blessed nostrils (to speak with most deep reverence and grief) to thrust him out of his Mansion-house on Earth, the heart; this is no small injury, affront, and unkindness. And such a backslider in heart, shall be filled with his own waies, if he fill not the sacred bottles with his tears. And they are more heavy to the conscience, in that they meet with no shame or trouble without, which is the ordinary lot of other sins, but are begun and perfected in the heart within; and their guilt is more, because their shame is less. And they do thereupon leave (as such other sins do) a deeper sting of remorse, and horrour of conscience, when the conscience is weake. There is much evil in these, Ezek. 6.9. I am broken with their whorish HEART, which hath departed from me.
THE third Evil in the nature of them, is, That they are sins in the special Presence of God. We read, Ezek. 8.16. of God, shewing the Prophet with infinite wrath, five and twenty men at the door of the Temple of the Lord, between the Porch and the Altar, with their backs towards the Temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the East, and they worshipped the Sun towards the East. This he highly resented, that in his Temple they should have their faces towards the Sun, and turn their backs on him. This is the manners of a roving heart. In God’s own presence he turns his back on God, and his face to the things under the Sun, and those he worships. O infinite patience! that turns not such a soul into a Pillar of Salt, yea, throws it not into a Pit of Brimstone! Ezek. 5.11. Therefore as I live, saith the Lord God, surely (see how he binds it with double strength) because thou hast defiled my Sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thy abominations, therefore I also will diminish thee — A third part shall die with the Pestilence. Which of all thy detestable sins, but thou hast had a fling at in the Sanctuary and Presence of God? now a proud, now a wanton, then a worldly thought. Ah, sayes God, I cannot bear it. He that provokes me to my face, shall feel it . Few think these sins have brought the Plague, no more than the Corinthians did their unworthy partaking at the Lord’s Table. In his special presence he looks at thee, as I may say, with both eyes, Psal. 90.8. He sets all our iniquities before him, but he places these secret sins in the light of his countenance. O this is an evil thing, and a bitter, that thou shouldest provoke the Lord to his face, and that his fear doth not awe thee, Ier. 31.11. Yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the Lord; this dyes it with a double dye. I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be thou perfect, Gen. 17.1 To believe you are sitting, standing, kneeling before God should make us perfect . How demurely doth the Child stand before his Father, the Scholar before his Master? and shall the Child of God only forget himself? the poorest Scholar, before the best of Masters? Famous was that execution, Levit. 10.12. Two of Aaron’s Sons came with their Censers, and offered strange fire BEFORE the Lord, which he commanded them not, and there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died BEFORE the Lord. Behold the dreadful hand of God! before him was their sin, before him they were punished. Lord! how terrible art thou in thy holy place! If no place will deter them from sin, no place shall be a sanctuary to them from Judgement. What are distracted thoughts but strange fire? and a strange punishment may the workers of iniquity have, if timely Repentance prevent not.
THE fourth Evil in their Nature, is, That they are sins about the most serious business . The most grand affairs under the Sun, are transacted in an Ordinance. I have read of a Noble Man of this Nation, that when his Cause of Life and Death was trying, though he had a pardon in his pocket at the same time, he was irrevocably sentenced, being that while asleep; he was sleeping, while the Judge was sentencing, was not this a gross neglect, and did not he (trow ye) bite his nails, and beat his head, that could not watch, when his head was in question? Sinner, thy head, and life, and soul, and all are in question: thy eternal happiness is handling, or thy dreadful sentence passing, and is this a time to trifle and straggle away from God? If you should come to the elbow of a Counsellor pleading at the Bar, much more of one impeach’t for Treason, and tell them, such a companion hath sent for them to the Tavern, or that such a Cock is like to win the Game, the Cattel broken into such a field, such a game at Chess likely to be lost; with what disdain and indignation would they turn back such a message, and cry, Is this time to trouble me with these things? when the very hearing of such an errand may lose my cause, or hazard my life . Are Cocks, or Corn, or Companions, parallel to immortal souls? what are these to the things between God and me? If the dead must not be buried, when Christ calls; nor a man stay to take leave of his friends, how greatly doth he trespass that runs riot after toys and sins, when the great God calls and calls again? We have a clear instance, Luk. 10.41, 42. the Preacher was at Martha’s house, and serious in his Sermon: Martha (good woman) was highly cumbred, and distracted with much serving: Mary sate at her Saviour’s feet, and heard his word. Saith Martha, I think it much that my Sister must have all the Dainties, and I all the Distractions: Master, rectifie this inequality. Ah, saith our Lord, Martha, Martha, thou art cumbred (or as the word signifies distracted) about many things. But one thing is needful. Mary is imbarked in a most necessary affair, and worldly cumber is improper for an heavenly business. She that’s working for her soul, hath work enough at that time. Salvation, Eternal salvation! Eternal salvation of soul and body; these are not things to dally about.
THE fifth Evil of these rovings of heart, is, That they are sins of Hypocrisie . And there can be no little evil in the sin of Hypocrisie. What is Hypocrisie? Matth. 15.7, 8. But the Honour of the lips, and the Distance of the heart, vox & preterea nihil, as it is said of the Nightingale, a sound of words, and no soundness in the heart, that’s Hypocrisie; of all sins most odious unto God and man. And though the purpose of the heart be wanting to make it formal, and full Hypocrisie, yet a custom in these will beget that at length, and he that useth to lye in jest, will come at length to lye in earnest, Hos. 11.12. Ephraim compasseth me about with lyes. Oh how often may the Lord say over us, these people compass me about with lyes. What a Generation of Vipers are here! like the Viper that’s speckled without, and poisonous within! Moses took a vail, when he spake to Israel, and put it off, when he spake to God. But the Hypocrite doth quite contrary, he shews his best to men, his worst to God, but the Lord sees both the vail, and the face; and it’s hard to say, whether he hates more the vail of dissimulation, or their face of wickedness. This, ’tis a disappointing of God, in a sense a deceiving of him, Mal. 1.4. Cursed be the deceiver, that hath in his flock a Male, and voweth and sacrificeth to God a corrupt thing. Yea, sayes God, you have in your flock a Male, you can be serious when you will, but a corrupt thing (it seems) will serve my turn; you disappoint me, you deceive me, you appoint a meeting between an heart and me, and here I come, and the heart is gone; you knock at my door with great earnestness, and when I come, the heart is gone: you are deceivers, and deserve my curse. If this be not repented and reformed, such deceitful Hypocrites must carry away no blessing of mine, but a curse.
A prayer, though but of forty words sincerely made and felt every syllable shall prevail more with God, than a long Oration with half an heart: and the meanest Sermon heard with a prepared, humble, and attentive heart, shall receive a greater blessing, than a better sermon with a worser heart: for God is a spirit, and shews do work nothing with him: he that seems to serve him, and doth not, exasperates him the more. An eye to Heaven, and an heart for Hell, an humble knee, and a haughty spirit, a serious posture, and a frivolous soul, are abominable to the Lord .
IN the next place, the Evil of Distractions is seen in the Effects, whereof these are some.
First, They do alienate the heart from holy duties . When we miss of God, we have small mind to his service again. It is the comparison of a learned Divine, when there is no marow in the bone, we quickly throw the bone away; even so when the sweet injoyment of God is not found in an Ordinance, which is lost by the roving heart, we shall ere long cast away that Ordinance, except shame or custom restrain us. Now when the soul cares not for prayer, or other Ordinances, it is a sad effect: the Lord may say to thee, with more right and reason, than Dalilah did, Iudg. 16.15. How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? What love is that without an heart? where the affection is, there the cogitation will be also. I may truly invert this, and say, where the heart is not before, there love will not come after. Let all the soul be seriously bestowed in any duty of prayer, singing, reading, or hearing, and you will be loth to leave that duty, and long to be at it again. O the sweetness therein, and love thereunto! Psal. 119.93. I shall never forget thy precepts, for with them thou hast quickened me. Oh when shall I come and appear before God! O that every day were a Sabbath, then should I be well, as said that famous Instance of Practical Piety. Hence, with a gracious heart, one duty prepares, and gets a stomach for another. But you shall find, when the heart is out of tune, and beating about the bush, and not half quarter of it with God; O then it is the most wearisome imployment in the world! A man had rather thresh than pray, that hath his heart in the Barn, when he is in prayer. And there is no lively desires, or longings of soul to that business, wherein he felt so little of God. Hence it is so hard to get a worldly family to get together to prayer; Alas! the duty is a distraction to them; when they come, they still leave their hearts behind them; you can make them no penny-worth of an Ordinance, whose hearts do usually run out of an Ordinance.
THE second Effect of Distractions, is, That they much affront the Majesty of God . It was an high affront to God, Act. 7.39. that his people, after they had had experience of him, yet in their hearts turned back into Egypt. This is the wisdom of a roving heart, they say. Come, we like not this blessed presence of, nor work in our hearts: let’s walk into the world again, Ezek. 11.21. But as for them, whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things, I will recompence their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord God. Here one detestable thing offers it self, and there another: for every thing that draws the heart from God, its chief good, is therein detestable: Now when the heart walks after them, that is the right vein of distractions. Where the heart walks after every trifle, that puts up finger, he shall have enough of his waies, saith the Lord. Must I stand for a sta•e, when he is aiming at other matters? must the great God wait on a simple Worm, till he can be at leisure to speak with him? shall the worst of evils be courted, while the chief of goods is slighted, and yet even then pretend to service? As if some miserable Scullion at the Court had made great means to possess the King with his low condition, and when the King is come to speak with him, he lyes sweeping the sink, or scouring the spit, and there lets his Prince wait on him to no purpose; may not he justly say, when I come next to meet you, you’st know the difference between the Majesty of a King, and the sordidness of a Scullion . Just so, poor soul, do thou and I, obtain leave to approach our heavenly Lord and King, and when he expects the heart earnestly to sollicit her great affairs, she is roving away, and bestowed in the Kitchin, or worse, while the great and holy God stands waiting to be gracious. What Father but would take it for a great indignity, to see his Son stopping his ears, or whistling, or playing with Flyes, while he is reading his last Will and Testament to him, or giving him order about his greatest affairs? And is not God greater than a Father? and can he with his honour, abate such a child his punishment, if he do not humbly cry him mercy, and study to offend no more? Though divine vengeance be not alwaies so visible, as a Parents Rod, yet it is as real and more heavy. A poor man cannot escape, with his affronts of a great God.
THE third Effect of Distractions, is, That they hinder the benefits of an holy duty. God seldom thinks of those prayers, that we think not of our selves, Isa. 64.7. And there is none that calleth on thy Name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: The Lord counts such prayers as none at all, when a man doth not stir up himself to his business, & non entis nulla est operatio . That which in God’s account hath no being, can have no working. The benefits of Ordinances are many and great: they are like the medium to sensation, as the air to the eye, or ear; there is no seeing nor hearing without it: so are Ordinances to the soul: they are the Conduits to convey God’s grace to us, and our desires to him: when a dirty distraction gets in, the Conduit is stopt, and the soul starved. And in this sense God’s Name (which should be most sacred and dear to us) is most palpably taken in vain. When we use a great solemnity to no effect, magno conatu nugas agimus. The wind and tide to serve, and yet the soul to sleep; the Mariner to be at Dice or Cards, till the opportunity be lost, what a great evil is this• when our voyage is for life and death? If you could by the expence of one serious hour gain a Lordship, would you not be intense and earnest that hour? would you not fume at the company, that would divert you, and disdain any ordinary business that would interrupt you? O stay, and let me alone this hour, for I am busie. Now by the cordial management of one serious hour in prayer, reading, hearing, or meditation; you may, yea shall infallibly gain at least one grain of grace, which is worth more than a Kingdom, yea, than a whole World. And is not that an evil thing, and bitter, that then interrupts you, and frustrates your gainful imployment, whereby it comes to pass that you get nothing? Pearls are dealing, and you get nothing. Orient graces in the hand of God, ready to give, and you none of them, who would entertain, that can be rid of such companions?
THE fourth Effect of these Distractions, is, That they deprive the soul of its purest comforts. The highest, truest, and purest joys and comforts, meet the soul in the service of God, Cant. 2.3, 4. I sate under his shadow with great delight. (There are then delights, and great ones too in the waies of God) And his fruit was sweet to my tast. (If thou hast any spiritual tast, his fruit will be sweet to it.) He brought me to the banquetting house: God’s house is his banquetting-house, and every Ordinance is a rare Feast to the soul, that doth spiritually manage it: Now these idle wandrings of the heart; first, by their Disturbance, then by their Guile, do damp and deprive the soul of the comforts thereof. Just as a black cloud doth hide from you, the bright and warming beams of the Sun. How often have you mist of those joyes of the Holy Ghost, sweeter than the musick of the Spheres, by these vain thoughts? with what sweet content do you look back on a Duty, where communion hath been held between God and you? and what a folly is it to lose an hour, and neither reap pleasure not profit by it ?
There is fatness in God’s house, and Rivers of pleasures with him, but he shall have leanness in his soul, that gives way to these, and of all those Rivers drinks not a drop, not one drop of true comfort and pleasure. O what an Heaven do negligent sinners lose! how many gracious smiles, blessed tokens, coelestial raptures, the dainty Diet of Angels, and all through the idleness of the soul! Psal. 63.5. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, (I am full, brim full of joy and comfort, my heart runs over, and) my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips. Now all these gleams of sweet comfort and refreshing, are stollen away by these thievish Distractions. For an upright heart, and an attentive, would seldom want the sweet comforts, that usually accompany sincerity and seriousness. He that can keep his meditations fixt on the right object, his meditation shall be sweet; and where should the Lord make his Servants joyful, but in the house of prayer?
THE fifth Effect of Distractions in the Worship of God, is, That they grieve away the Holy Ghost. It is true what the blessed Apostle hath said, Rom. 8.26. The Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and so helps against these, when they are but infirmities, mourn’d for, and striven against, but when they are contracted habits, then they grieve and quench the holy Spirit . The Greek word in that Scripture, signifies to take and heave up a thing over against you, to heave with you. I but now, if our spirits instead of helping, shrink away, and heave none, this promise will do us no good. If we leave the business wholly to God’s Spirit, without our diligent co-operation, he will leave it to our spirits, without his divine co-operation. The Holy Ghost will dwell only with an holy heart, and these Idols in the heart, do heartily trouble that sweet Spirit, Ezek. 14.3. Son of man, these men have set up their Idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face, should I be inquired of at all by them? Read on, and you’l see what consequence this is of. What are worldly and sinful distractions, but Idols in the heart? what are abused objects of the eye, or ear, but the stumbling-blocks of iniquity before the face? and how can the holy Spirit dwell in such a soul, or abide such doings? Luther somewhat sayes, that the Holy Ghost dwells not in Babel, but is Salem; that is, delights not in the heart, where is nothing but confusion, (that’s the english of Babel) but in the heart where there is quiet, peace, and freedom, (that’s the meaning of Salem.) In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Sion, Psal. 76.2. The unkindness offered is very great: as if you should earnestly importune some noble friend, to accompany and help you in some arduous affair, and he comes to go with you, once and again; and still, when you should come along, and promote your own business, you steal away about some trivial matters, and leave your noble friend in the lurch: This is the very case, you humbly impor•une the holy Spirit of God, to help you in the service of God; and he most graciously comes to help you, but one distraction or other charms away your heart, and the Holy Ghost is left alone. And thus the Holy Ghost is so oft sinned against, till at length he is sinned away. And thus you see the evil of Distractions, which is the seventh Point to be handled.
CHAP. VIII. The Cure of Distractions.
AND if there be such great evil in these Distractions, and evil effects of them, what shall an upright heart do to be rid of them? I say, an upright heart, that inquires for means to use them, and craves a plaister not to look at, but to apply to his sore. And art thou thus resolved, that readest these lines? For us to spend our skill, and you your time, without full purpose to practise, is labour in vain: Nay, it will harden your hearts here, and increase your condemnation hereafter. You will deceive your selves, and disappoint us, if you rest in hearing, without doing what you hear. Well then, are you resolved unfeignedly to take the Lord’s counsel, for the destruction of your distractions? Stop a little and resolve — And now let me put that question to you, Ier. 30.21. Who is this that hath ingaged his heart, to approach unto me, saith the Lord? Who is this? who will do it? who is thus well advised? that hath ingaged, not only made a proffer, but ingaged, and that his heart, to approach unto God, and where in this Congregation doth that man sit, or stand, that out of a deep sense of the hatefulness and hurtfulness of this sin, doth now ingage his heart and soul to use all means against it, and that in the uprightness of his heart? The Lord your God sees who yields and cries out, through grace I am resolved. Well, on that condition I proceed to Direction.
- Dispel the Causes fore-mentioned, and use the Remedies prescribed against them; and here if you be in good earnest, you will look back and review them, and the helps adjoyned, and beg of God, as you read them, In this Lord pardon and help thy Servant! A man of small skill, may easily stop the symptoms of diseases, as the present pain in the teeth, or the like; but he is an Artist, that removes the causes of them; and it is more easie to turn off two or three of these vain thoughts, than to heal the soul of the Thought-evil in the causes thereof. If these remain Atheism, unpreparedness, lukewarmness, worldliness, and the like in the heart, all the rules and receits under Heaven, will never cure you of Distractions. For there will still spring up continual supplies from these corrupt causes; as the lopping of the boughs will still have new sprouts coming, until the •oo• be stocked up; and therefore with faithfulness, and resolution, set upon all those Remedies that have been prescribed. Beg of God to dry up the spring, else your damming up the streams will do no good. When the causes are dispelled, the cure is wrought.
And here is a plain discovery of an Hypocrite in heart; if some light easie receit will help him in any case, he may set to it; but if he must go about, and take pains; if the way of cure be any whit intricate, or difficult, then he throws it up, never will go to the bottom of his business: Whereas the upright heart doth but desire to know what to do, what is God’s method and way, and then long, or short, hard, or easie, he never disputes, he demurrs not, but falls to work; he knows every inch he goes, he gets advantage, and IN keeping of God’s Commandments, there is great reward. The speediness of his cure he desires, but the soundness of it he insists on, and counts no trouble in the cure, like the evil of his sin. Are you resolv’d in this? else ’tis to no purpose to proceed? To stumble at the threshold, presages. But if we be clear thus far, I proceed.
- BEwail your former failings in this respect; this will divers waies conduce to your amendment:
- Morally, being an Argument that you really dislike the sin, and the condition of God’s pardon thereof. The ordinary Lord have mercy, doth herein fall short of pardon, because it is not spoke in tears; If God did but see a man grieve for his sin , a little ado, a few words should get forgiveness. The Publican had but a short peccavi, nor David upon his dreadful fall; but they were words that were felt, they were heart deep, they swum in tears, each word fetcht a drop of blood from the heart. And God was well pleased with them in Christ. When Antipater had written a large Letter to Alexander, against his Mother Olympia, his answer was, dost thou not know, that one tear from my Mother’s eye, can wash away all her faults? so one penitential tear from a believers eye, can perswade much with God in Christ for the pardon of his wandrings. But the most imbroidered phrases, without this Christian grief, work not with God at all. Lachrymarum lingua disertissimè loquitur — If Christ Jesus himself did sue for pardon for an impenitent sinner, he would not be heard. But when your conscience is toucht, and the heart melts, and bleeds for your faults herein; now, saith God, I see yonder man cannot live with a wandring heart, and therefore he shall live without it. I’le never see him drown’d in his distractions, that is thus drowned in tears about them; if he really dislike them, I’le really dispel them.
And then again, till their guilt be pardon’d, our tear are usually desperate; like a wicked spend-thrift, while hopeless of a discharge from all, treasures up sin unto sin, till that dreadful pay-day come, the day of Judgement. Whereas, when sin, this sin is truly grieved for, the Holy Ghost doth ever bring a pardon in one hand, and a plaister in another; at the same time, to clear the guilt, and cure the disease . O, saies the soul, I am defiled, I am wounded in my flight to Heaven, I am disappointed in my affairs, my God is angry. I have sinned just then, when I should have scored out my sins. I have sinned against my remedy, and how shall I be cured? O was there ever such a rotten backsliding heart! such a Cain-like vagabond cursed frame? what place but Hell, is fit for that heart, that cannot rest in Heaven? Ah Lord! I wonder that the end of my prayer, is not the beginning of my punishment. Though these be but small like the Sand, yet being many as the Sand, how can I stand under them? I am ashamed, yea even confounded for these reproaches of my duties. Nay, then saies God, that hearkens behind the curtains all this while, Is Ephraim my dear Son? is not he a pleasant child? I will remember him, I will have mercy upon him. When thou art ripe for Hell in thy own eyes, then art thou ripe for grace and glory in the eyes of God. No man shall ever be overborn with a sin he hates. Go my blessed Spirit, that hast melted him, and mend him; that hast softened him, strengthen him: he that laments his sin, shall never languish under it . The sacrifice of a broken heart doth please him, though the sacrifice of a broken Christ alone doth satisfie him.
- Dispositively, grief at heart doth help forward the cure of distractions, and that by softening the heart, and so fitting the same for the impressions of God’s will. When the Wax is melted, you may turn and mold it, which way you will: So when the soul is melted by grief for these sins, God Almighty may easily be heard, and his counsel will be taken. And also this godly sorrow (as was before observed) doth so afflict and make a mans heart to ake and smart, that he will take some pains to prevent the like anguish again. When they knock at door, you’l say, O these are they, that cost me dear at such a time: non emam tanti poeniteo. I feel yet the sad impressions of my late affliction for them; I found a pardon no easie enterprize, nor Repentance so pleasing a potion to brew for it again. I would not for all the world, (much less for one vain thought or two) nor for a thousand worlds together, be under that anger of God, nor feel one drop of his scalding indignation, which I have perceived for these offences. O Sirs, where godly sorrow is in the power of it, what carefulness doth it work? what zeal, what indignation, yea what revenge? It makes sin lye like a Mountain upon the soul, musters up all the aggravations of sin, and sets them home on the heart. O to sin in an Ordinance! against such a God! in the midst of my greatest business! after such conviction! vows and promises of exactness before him! To offend both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost at a clap! heart of stone, dost not melt? yea to offend the Angels of Heaven, which holy spirits turn away their faces at our vanities in the Assemblies; yea and offend the Angels upon Earth (God’s Ministers) while that which cost them most serious pains, is spoken to the air! to wound my own soul in the act of curing it, and increase guilt, when I am getting it cleared! to play the Hypocrite before the face of God, the Judge of Heaven and Earth! O wretched man that I am! O my sin is exceeding sinful! lend a tear, O rend an heart! O thou most high! A broken heart today, will be a good preservative against a wandring heart to morrow.
III. ENgage the holy Spirit of God in thine assistance, Joh. 15.5. Without me ye can do nothing. Supernatural work cannot be done, without supernatural help: You may and ought to do what a man can do, that is, compose your selves, and guard your senses, but you cannot do that which only a God can do, that is, fly up, and fix your hearts in Heaven, Rom. 8.26. We cannot pray for any thing [for matter] as we ought, [for the manner] but the Spirit it self maketh intercession for us. The Greek word signifies, the Spirit over and above steps in and helps; or, as others, makes vehement intercession for us. We climb up the Ladder as well as we can towards Heaven, but alas it wavers, no stability till the Holy Ghost hold it at the top, and draw, and lift us up, and then we get a sight of Heaven. And you have resolved, belike, and been secure of a good frame, but Prov. 28.26. He that trusteth to his own strength, is a fool; you have found no fixedness or liveliness in your spirits without the assistance of God: He that prayes aright, must pray in the Holy Ghost, Jude v.20. This also quickens and hears the soul, whereby there is no room, or leisure for distracted thoughts.
Hereby the soul is carried streight up to God, and staies at nothing on this side Heaven; yea, by the Spirit’s blessed assistance, Every thought is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. O blessed frame! when every thought is captivated to obey Christ, there is none can deal with our spirits, but the Spirit of God. When the Word comes in the hand of the Spirit, there is no avoiding it. Then the reading one Chapter can convert, as that Ioh. 1. did the learned Iunius: yea, of one verse, as that 1 Tim. 1.15. did Mr. Bilney; yea, one sentence can comfort the heart, as that, Isa. 57.15. did the afflicted conscience of one, that nothing else could satisfie; thereby the soul is carried up, as Mr. Tilleman the Martyr was in his devotions, so that he saw or heard no body, till after long search, and great noise, his persecutors took him up from his knees. The heart is so carried upward to God, that all the world looks as inconsiderable, as a mote or atome at that time, and not worth the thinking on: And is entertained with that sweet content, that it cannot wish to be any where else; and therefore a by-thought is as un•welcom, as base company to him that is busie with Nobles.
Beg therefore of God, with earnest importunity, at the entrance of every Ordinance, for his holy Spirit; and he hath said, Luk. 11.13. He will give his Spirit to them that ask him. Say, Lord, if thy Spirit go not with me, let me go no further. For as the Intercession of Christ is absolutely necessary for your acceptance, so the Intercession of the Holy Ghost, is necessary for your assistance. The Spirit it self also making intercession for us with sighs, that cannot be uttered. Promise your heavenly Father, that you will never willingly disoblige or grieve away his Spirit again. Art thou dead? cry, Quicken me, and I will call upon thy Name. Is thy heart roving? cry, Unite my heart to fear thy Name. Humbly plead his promise, that he will put his Spirit and fear into your hearts, that you shall never (and if never, then not in his solemn Ordinance) depart from him; and observe the gracious gales of the Spirit, and when they clash not with the Rules of his holy Word, lay hold on them, and fall to duty. It’s best rowing below, when the wind blows fair above. When thy heart is warm and in ure, then do the business throughly. And beware of grieving him between times; let there be a coherence between prayer and practice: let your whole life be of a piece, lest he withdraw when you have most need of him. And remember that to grief the Spirit oft, is the way to quench the Spirit, and to quench the Spirit oft, is the way to do despite to the Spirit. That is a rare expression, Gal. 5.25. If ye live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit: how far is this phrase from vulgar apprehension or feeling! To live and walk by the conduct and quickening of the Holy Ghost, this is the life of a Saint. And then he that walks in the Spirit, prays also in the Spirit, and watches thereunto, Ephes. 6.18. Whereby those airy darts of the Devil, that would conquer the strength of a man, are crush’d and chas’d away by the strength of a God.
- BElieve the Presence of God. The eye of the Master, makes the Scholar busie. If his eye be off the Scholar, the Scholar’s eye is off his book, Psal. 16.8. I have set the Lord alwaies before me, because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved: Else your hearts will be moved, and removed too upon every motion. And therefore Faith, which doth realize invisible things, and presentiate an invisible God, is of great use in every holy duty, Heb. 11.6. He that cometh to God, must believe that God is. He must as fully believe that God is present, as if he were visible , that thou art incompassed and involved in the presence of God. If thou go forward, he is there; if backward, thou mayest perceive him; on the left hand, there he doth work, though thou canst not behold him; he hides himself on the right hand, that thou canst not see him: Yet he knoweth the way that thou takest, Job 23 9, 10. This his common presence: but then in an Ordinance, there he is in the midst of his people; there he looks over Heaven and Earth as nothing, and to this man looks he, that’s poor, and contrite, and trembles at his Word: and therefore, when you pray, you must not only speak, as speaking of God, but to God. It’s sleighting a Prince, when we deliver a Petition, and look another way; we bid our children look at us, when they speak to us, and so should we at God, who is not far from every one of us in his Ordinances. There he is with his Host about him; and though ’tis above us to determine whether his Angels are imployed to conduct his Word to us, or our Prayers to him; yet its certain, that they attend the great Iehovah, and never more willing, than in an Ordinance; being transported with joy at a sinners conversion, and most pleasantly feasting on our poenitential tears.
It’s true, God is alwaies, and every where with thee, with those more common Attributes of Immensity, Power, and Providence; but in his Worship, there he is also present by his grace, mercy, holiness, and efficacy. His common presence may be compared to the Sun in a cloudy day; it is in the Sky, we have great benefit by it, we should die without it: but his special Ordinance Presence, is like the Sun breaking out of a cloud in a Summers morning, that discovers atomes, warms our bodies, and refresheth our spirits. Even so the common presence of God upholds the world, in him we live, move, and have our Being, and the belief that God is every where, should perswade us to sin no where . But now the special presence of God in his Worship, that like the Sun breaking out, inlightens the mind, warms the heart, and melts the most rocky soul. Hereby God doth, as it were, shine directly upon us; so that to trifle or sin before him, is a crime intolerable. The name of every place, where God is rightly worshipped, is, Iehovah Shammah, the Lord is there. Thy closet, the Lord is there between thy chair and thee, and canst thou shift from him? thy bed-chamber, the Lord is there between thy bed-side and thee, and canst thou turn from him? by the fire-side with thy family, the name of that place is Iehovah Shammah, and wil• thou sleep? In the Assembly, the Lord is there, and what are all the Gallants there, in comparison of him? O therefore hear and look at God, and pray and look at God, meditate and look at God, sing Psalms, and still look at God. It was Hagar’s saying. Gen. 16.13. Have I also here looked after him, that seeth me? And she called the Name of the Lord that spake to her Thou God seest me. O call the Name of the Lord that speaks to thee, and the Lord to whom thou speakest, Thou God seest me . Keep thy eye upon him, as he keeps his eye upon thee; find a fairer object, and gaze and spare not; but while there is none in Heaven or Earth desirable like him, let nothing in Heaven or Earth distract thee from him. The lively sense of this• will charm the heart exceedingly, and we steal from duty, because we see no One there. It’s said, Prov. 20.8. A King that sitteth in the Throne of Iudgement, scattereth away all evil with his eyes; that is, his very countenance should read such a Lecture of Justice, Temperance, Chastity, and Piety, that every spectator should fear to do otherwise. O then how should the presence of God so inchant the soul with that holiness, goodness, and sweetness therein, that not one thought could be spared from so lovely an object!
The full and clear vision, and fruition of this presence of God, doth so eternally ravish and content the soul in Heaven, that they would not look off the face of God for a thousand worlds; no, though all the Kings of the Earth in their greatest triumph, should pass by Heaven gates, and the Earth’s utmost glory with them: A glorified soul is so full of the presence of God, that it would not spare one minut’s look to see it all. It is said of one Theodorus, a Martyr, that in all his tortures he smiled, and being askt his reason, answered, that he saw a glorious youth wiping the sweat off his face, whereby he was infinitely refreshed. If thou couldest but see by the eye of Faith, the blessed face of God smiling on thee, and with the handkerchief of his love wiping thy sweat and tears away, thy heart would be glad, and thy glory rejoyce, and thou wouldst say, Lord, it’s good, yea, it’s best for me to be here. Go not willingly from him, without a sight of him: Moses had few distractions when he saw God face to face. The actual faith of a Saint ingages the actual presence of God. Drexelius tells us of a vision of an holy man, and behold in the Temple, an Angel at every man’s elbow, that was at prayer: He that prayed with malice in his heart, his Angel wrote his petitions in Gall; he that prayed coldly, his prayers were written in the water; he that prayed with distractions, his suits were written in sand; and he that prayed in faith, his Angel wrote his petitions in Letters of Gold . The moral whereof at least is good: If thou wouldst believe that every word spoken by thee, or to thee, is written, with what care and conscience wouldst thou pray and hear? And be sure, there is one among you, that takes notes of all, who will give to every man according to his works, whom to see and feel in an Ordinance, will quit you from Distractions.
- LAY a Law upon your senses. Beg of God to sanctifie them; as they are all Pensioners to Satan by nature and complo•ment, so bring them all into Covenant with God, that ye may be sanctified in soul, and body, and spirit. Give them to him, use them for him. Is is said, Prov. 17.24. The fools eyes are in the ends of the Earth. Any new face that comes in, any antick garb, any noise about, every head that moves, every leaf that stirs, commands the eyes and heart of a fool, but that while, Prov. 4.25. Let thy eyes look straight on, and let thine eye-lids look straight before thee. Compose thy eyes in that devout and heavenly posture, that whatever falls out, thou mayest hoc agere, keep to thy business without wavering. For the heart is used to walk after the eye, Job 31.7. To the undoing of the soul.
It is a precept among the Rabbins, that if a Jew be at prayer, though a Serpent come and bite him, yet he must not stir, till he hath done his duty. Satan that old Serpent will be nibling at thy heel with one vain suggestion or other, but go thou through with thy business, and let God alone with him.
In Prayer then, fix thy eyes Heavenward , and let nothing divert them, till the prayer be done. This will shew that thou wouldst lift thy heart thither, if thou couldst, and will prevent many an impertinent distraction, that comes in by the eye. If any deride thee for this, doubt thou not of good company, Psal. 123.1. Unto thee do I lift up my eyes, O thou that dwellest in the Heavens. Let your ears be as good as stopt, to every thing, besides your work. And the lifting up your craving hands, will not be unprofitable to this end; for you will find them to flagg, when the heart knocks off from its business, whereby you may be advertised to come in again, Lam. 3.41. Let us lift up our hearts WITH OUR HANDS unto God in the Heavens. And let your prayers be vocal, if it may be, for the voice both helps to fix the thoughts, and raise the affections, the want whereof we discern in meditation.
In hearing of God’s Word, let the eye be chained to the Preacher with the greatest attention and reverence; as if you saw an Angel in the Pulpit, or Christ himself. And beware, lest your needless complements to men, be interpreted a neglect to God. ‘Tis small manners to be complementing the Kings Servants in his Presence chamber, till you have done your homage to the King. Do your work with God, ’tis time enough to perform your civilities to men, when that is done. Look then to God, from him is thy expectation, with him is thy business, Luk. 4.20. The eyes of all them that were in the Synagogue• were FASTENED on him. And therein also, let your ears be only open Heaven-ward. Lord! to deal with thee I am come, and thou shalt have all, my soul, and body, and all.
And here I cannot but digress a little, but it is to cure a more criminal digression, which is that frequent Abuse of Whispering and talking to one another, in the service of God, which except it be upon such instant indispensable business, as cannot be ordered before or after the Ordinance, is a sin in an high degree, and that
- Because it brings a guilt and distraction upon two at once. If a vain thought there be so evil, as you have heard, how criminal then is this, that involves you both, yea perhaps occasions a distraction to twenty more, that observe you? And the guilt of all their vain thoughts on that occasion will be charged on your account, according to the equity of that Law, Exod. 21.23.
- Because this hath more of Affront in it. Thy heart testifies to God’s face, that thou dost despise his presence. Who but an impudent Renegade would, while the King is laying down terms of mercy and honour to him, be talking and laughing with his companions at some uncouth Courtier that comes in? and who but an implicit Atheist shall be whispering with his neighbour about any thing, while the King of Heaven and Earth is treating with him about Eternity? You hold it no piece of good manners, while any man is speaking to you, especially if he be your superiour, to neglect him so far, as to turn from him to discourse another; nay, if the most necessary business call you away, you apologize for your diversion, and crave pardon: And shall you dare while your Maker is in conference with you, to confront him with an open parle with others? This is an high affront, if you consider it well.
- This hath more offence in it. An offence to the Preacher, that hath taken much pains to prepare that, which you will not take pains to hear, or else imply, it is not worth the hearing. An offence to the Congregation that sees it, who must needs, if they fear God• be troubled at so publick a fault. An offence to the Angels, that, while they stoop down to look into the mysteries opened in the Church, see you sleight them so notoriously: An offence to your own souls, that perhaps in that moment miss of what would most have done them good. O therefore, Christian Reader! mourn for thy misbehaviour this way, and amend it for time to come, lest God refuse to treat with thee, that triflest thus in thy treating with him. Remember, it’s work enough for a poor man, to converse with a great God. He needs no other business, to fill his hands.
And then in Meditation you must also compose your senses. There shut your eye, and ear, and sequester your self wholly to the contemplation of things invisible. The least sight or sound will here distract: Any thing, yea nothing will throw us off the hinges in this duty; indeed it is said of Isaac, Gen. 24.63. That he went forth in the field in the evening-•ide to meditate. And in that kind of meditation, where the rise and subject matter is sensible, there the senses must be active and busie; but I think, in other cases, the outward senses may stand aside, and let the soul alone without them: we are never more sensible, than when we use no outward sense at all.
And lastly, in communicating at the Lord’s-table, there fix both your eyes on the sacred elements, until the eye have affected the heart to feel what Christ felt, to die in his death, and looking on him whom you have pierced, you mourn for him with a superlative sorrow: And then look at those sacred signs with an eye of Faith, till virtue come from that brazen Serpent, to cure your sin-stung soul. Look yet again, till thy heart be inflamed with love to him, till he cry in Heaven, Cant. 4.9. Thou hast ravished my heart, my Sister, my Love, thou hast ravished my heart with one of thy eyes, with one chain about thy neck. He that spends his eye there to observe his neighbours, to criticize upon their gestures, hath little to do, and less to get in that sacred Ordinance. And then lay a Law upon thine ear, and tast, and touch, for most of the senses are gratified and useful in this Ordinance; that nothing may interrupt thy communion with Jesus Christ at that time. For there the utmost strength of body and soul are scarce enough, to gain, and feel, and do, what is there to be gain’d, and felt, and done.
And in general, be not treacherous to your selves. Satan without you can do no great matters within you: your senses you can command, your hearts not so well. Be faithful in what ye can, else if you could order your very hearts, you would not. He that will not do what he can, would much less do, what he cannot.
- THE sixth Cure of these Distractions, is, a watchful reflection of the soul upon its self, and ejaculation unto God, It is said, Eccles. 10.2. A wise mans heart is at his right hand, but a fools heart is at his left. Is not this the meaning of it? That a wise good man hath his heart ready, can speedily serve him, instantly recoil upon himself; but a wicked foolish man, his heart is aukward and unskilful, a left-hand-heart, unweildy and unready for any good work. O get then a dextrousness of heart to bolt in• and break the sinful knot of your vain imaginations . That a distraction may not set so long on the heart, that it hatch, and breed yet more of the kind, and so swallow you up in condemnation. It is said, Gen. 15.11. When the Fowls light, Abraham drove them away, not when they were sitting or feeding upon the carkasses, but as soon as ever they lighted, we must not give place to these for a moment. Mr. Dod adviseth us to ask our selves often these two questions. 1. What I am? 2. What I am doing? We are well, if we can well answer these two questions. If thou canst answer, I am a Child of God, and I am doing God’s Will, it will stand thee in more stead than if thou couldst answer all the questions in Aquinas. We read, Nehem. 4.17. That in the building of God’s house, every one, with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon: Work and watch, work and fight was the guise of them. And he that will edifie in God’s house yet, must do the same; hear and watch, and watch and pray, and fight, and struggle, and pray still. This Hill we climb inch by inch: One may tumble into Hell, but the strait gate must be striven at. Let conscience then perform it’s part, and speedily glance into the heart with all fidelity. Abraham’s Fowls came without sending for, and yet would not go away without driving. You cannot hinder a Thief from coming by the house, but you may from quartering with you, at least with any quiet and approbation.
And it is good to cast off these wandring thoughts with an Ejaculation to God , else the destruction of one, will prove the generation of another. When Satan casts in his injaculations, lift you up your ejaculations. This will ingage divine strength, and work God your friend. Do as they, Act. 19.34. When they thought Alexander would speak evil of Diana, they cryed, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. So when these are injected then breath forth into some heavenly ejaculations, so will you cross the tempter, and in stead of losing, gain . Send up thy prayer in a Parenthesis, like that, Psal. 119.37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in thy way —Forsake me not, O God, me strength— And take not thy Holy Spirit from me— Awake O North-wind, and come thou South, blow upon my Garden. These darting desires sent up with faith, will weaken the habits of corruption, and affright Satan from his suggestions. This resisting the Devil will make him flee from you: As the golden spikes were set on the Temple, to keep the Fowls from thence, so will these, being conscionably used, keep off vain thoughts from lodging upon your sacrifices. Up therefore and stir up thy self, by this means, to save thy sacrifice from being devoured, and thy soul polluted. Alas, we are daily told, and we feel it, that the heart is deceitful above all things; if a wary eye be not kept over it, you will find it sometimes in the bed of lust, sometimes on the pinacle of honour, and often diging in the world, and yet salve up all with an I thank God, I am not as other hearts are. If ever you be rid of less guests, you must do, as good Barnabas advised them, with full purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord, Act. 11.23. There must be heart, purpose of heart, full purpose of heart, and then you will cleave unto the Lord.
Obj. But I am suddenly slipt from God, before I am aware , and when I see it, and resolve anew, yet ere five sentences be past, I am gone again.
Answ. This shews the sad corruption of our nature, and should therefore humble us: And this argues also the contracted ill disposition of the soul: when a disease hath such recidivations and returns, it speaks that it is too much radicated, yet in this case you must not give out, nor throw down your watch; you must not compound with sin, because it’s hard to sue out an ejectione firmâ, no peace must be made with Amalek for ever: If the Devil and your unregenerate part be unwearied in their assault against you, you must be unwearied in your resistance, and die se defendendo. And you will find, as use and custom hath strengthened these temptations, so an use of reflection and strenuous opposition, will at length weaken, and at last extinguish them.
VII. THE last and great cure of distractions, is, strength of grace. As no props without will keep the ship steady, except there be store of ballast within; so no extrinsick helps will stablish your hearts against these wandrings without grace, yea strong grace within, Heb. 13.19. It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace. For,
- The more sanctifying grace you have, the more mortified will your heart be unto the world, and the flesh, the great disturbers of divine service. The fairest Landskip shewed to a dead man, moves him not at all. A heart dead to the world, is not removed from God with every trifle of the world, 2 Cor. 4.18. While we look not at all things that are seen, but at things that are not seen. Things visible are not worth looking at, especially when things invisible are in place. What’s a temporal house, or land, or children to me, that see, and am contracting for an eternal and glorious house and state? Alas! what tast it there in these rotten things?
- The more grace, the clearer will be your eye of faith, to behold the Majesty of God with whom you have to do, and the reality of the things about which you treat; for faith is the evidence of things not seen, and makes the soul as real as the body, and Heaven as real as the world, and the day of Judgement as real as the present day: And how undistractedly would a man pray, that saw the world on a flame, or himself dropping into another world?
- The more grace, the tenderer will be your conscience; and so sooner smart, and more oppose these enormities; the tender eye cannot bear, what the brawny hand can. A distraction in a duty more troubles a tender conscience, than the total omission of it doth another. A little sin, is• no little sin, where there is a great deal of grace. O keep your conscience tender, with all the ca•e and skill you can. A little wedge makes way for a greater, and a little thief can let a greater in. Blessed is the man that feareth alway, and he that hath a soft heart, is alwaies hard to sin.
- The more grace, the more affections to things above, Col. 3.2. Set your affections on things above, and where there is much affection, there is little distraction. A heavenly mind is all in all, Isa. 26.8, 9. When the desire of the soul is to the remembrance of God• when with thy soul thou hast desired him in the night, then with thy spirit within thee, thou wilt seek him early . He that hath his usual conversation in Heaven, will not easily have his heart from thence in prayer. It’s a clear case, where the treasure is, there will the heart be also. A mind above, will no so easily have thoughts below. Where is that man that can say, Psal. 119.20. My soul breaketh for the longing it hath to thy Iudgements at all times. He whose heart breaks for the presence of God, will break his heart, when he slips from him: And he that cryes, O when shall I come and appear before God? will not privately wish, when shall I have done, and take leave of him?
- The more grace, the more disposed frame will the heart be in, for the service of God: And it is indisposition to an Ordinance, that lets in distractions there; as an instrument out of tune, hath divers jarring strings, and still one or other slips, and spoils the melody: a distraction is a string slipt, that spoils the musick, a tuned and disposed heart would prevent it much. The flock of sheep that’s indisposed and unwilling to drive, start out of the way into every Lanes end; one this way, and another that; and just so is it with an unwilling heart, one thought starts this way, another that, and it’s a piece of skill to drive them through. O but a willing heart, an heart prepared and ready to every good work, it flies up quite an end, and delights its self in the Lord, The Law of God is in his heart, none of his steps then shall slide, Psal. 37.31.
- The more grace, the more spiritual and invisible sins are observed and resisted. Small grace discerns and mortifies the filthiness of the flesh; but strong grace sees and hates the filthiness of the spirit, and so perfects holiness in the fear of God. Gross sins are left at first, but more resined sins, spiritual wickedness in heavenly imployments, these are work for riper graces afterwards. Hence the strong Christian usually with ease, can avoid oppression, cruelty, uncleanness, drunkenness, and the like; but the weak Christian hardly conquers spiritual pride, passion, unbelief, distractions, and such like; a little mote more troubles the eye, than much dirt molests the hand; so an holy tender heart is more troubled with these undiscerned sins, than another man with greater crimes.
- The more grace, the stronger resolutions you will put on against them, and resolution breaks the heart of them. The poor Country-man going to his Market; at every door in town almost, there is a snare laid for him; here one calls him in, and there another: but he resolved in the morning, not to spend a penny, and thereby he breaks through and avoids them all: Alas! his who•e weeks earning had gone at a clap, and he should have had nothing, but repentance to feed on, the week following: Even so, when thou comest into an holy Ordinance, the souls Market, where the soul hath much business; here one thought stands and beckens, and there lyes another, and at the door of every verse and sentence, a suggestion stands; but if thou hast firmly resolved at the beginning of the duty, by God’s grace, I’le not stir from my God, from my work one jot, thou wilt not heed nor exchange a word with these vain follies: For alas! if thou shouldst, the whole gain of thy duty would be eaten up, and the end of thy duty, would be the begining of thy grief.
- The more grace, the more, business ye will find you have to do with God in his Ordinances; little grace hath little to do, and much grace hath much to do; he hath alwaies business with God, special earnest business, Psal. 27.4. One thing have I desired of the Lord — that I may dwell in the house of the Lord — and why? to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his Temple. O I have somewhat to inquire after, I am to do something by this duty, and therefore cannot trifle. He that comes to visit his friend in a complement, he talks, he walks, he trifles, and goes home again, but he that comes upon business, he is full of it: He is like Abraham’s honest and faithful Servant, Gen. 24.33. And there was meat set before him to eat, but he said, I will not eat, till I have told mine errand. I have great business with the Lord, about the Church, and about my soul, and I will not eat, nor talk, nor think, nor dally about any thing, till I have told mine errand, or heard my Maker’s errand unto me: And for this end, it’s a rare thing to carry somewhat alwaies on the spirit to spread before God, an heart pregnant with some needful request, or matter whereof to treat with God, Psal. 45.1. My heart is inditing a good matter, and then, my tongue shall be like the pen of a ready Writer; O then I shall go merrily on in his service, when I have matter prepared in my heart. And indeed, as the Mariner sees further new stars, the further he sails, he loseth the sight of the old ones, and discovers new; so the growing Christian, the further he sails in Religion, he discovers new wants; new Scriptures affect him, new tryals afflict him, new business he finds with God, and forgetting those things that are behind, he watcheth after those things that are before, and so finds every day new business with the Lord his God: and he that’s busi• trifles not; the more business, the less distractions. And therefore be advised all ye that intend for Heaven, to get more grace. It is as much as your duty to get the second grace, as it was your duty to get the first grace; and as the want of this would damn you, so a want in that will displease God, and that is as bad.
Quest. But how should a poor weak Christian get strong grace, if I can get any grace, it’s well for me, a little grace is much for him, that had none at all.
Answ. Though thou are a poor weak Christian, yet that strong and blessed God, whose thou art, gives power to the faint, – and to them that have no might, he increaseth strength, Isa. 40.29. And though it’s well for thee to have any grace, yet it’s better for thee to have more: few folks are contented with a naked life, but they would live well and comfortably, they would be healthful and plentiful, and will a little only of grace serve thy tur•? And though a little grace be well for him that had none, yet it is not well for him that hath such means and motives for much grace, as thou hast had. And therefore I renew my counsel, if ever you would attend upon God, or injoy him hereafter without distraction, strive for stronger grace. And to obtain it,
- You must be upright and humble: Upright, for Iob 17.9. He that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger. The sound child grows, the child painted on the wall thrives not: so the sincere Christian, he, though he feel it not, comes on, and goes from strength to strength, but the hypocrite, he never grew, for he never had a root. And humble you must be. The humble vallies grow: God can never (he thinks) lay out too much upon an humble heart.
- You must manage the means of growth with your whole strength. Attend upon the most edifying Ministry, read the most profitable Books, consort with the most lively growing Christians, and particularly be frequent in the tryal of the state of your soul. Each week, if possible, call your selves to some account, and strive to discern a weekly growth; but if you cannot, desist not from that work, but try again: Single out some special grace, or duty to thrive in next week; as for example, the grace of Patience, saving Knowledge, the duty of an Husband, Parent, or Child. And still be trying, you will find one time or other, what will fully pay you for your labour: only observe, he that thrives in the world takes pains and care; and so in grace, he that will grow, must strive and sweat for it. A little grace is worth a great deal of pains.
And thus you have the eighth Point, to wit, the Cure of Distractions, if you will apply it; but to what end are Rules, unless ye will be ruled by them? These helps cannot help you, except you now faithfully put them in practice. The plaister cures not in the box, but laid on the sore. And your charge be it, if these do you no good. Review them then, and resolve by divine grace to practise them every one, and the Lord of Heaven give his blessing.
CHAP. IX. Encouragements under the burden of Distractions.
BUT, lest any honest Christian should by his frequent distractions, be discouraged from his duties, or in his holy duties, I shall in the ninth place, prevent such a temptation, by laying down some Encouragements for those that groan under the burden of distractions. And here I assert two things:
- That these distractions should not drive you from your duties: You have been thinking, perhaps, it were better my service were undone, than done so confusedly; and our false hearts are secretly prone to accept any occasion to lay down our work, but believe not the Devils rotten Divinity: he takes on him to be tender, lest God’s name be taken in vain, but this is to insinuate you the more; but in this sense, obedience is better than sacrifice; thy obedience to his command, is more pleasing to him, than thy torn sacrifice. And then it is a known case, that the omission of a duty will never fit one for a duty better. Luther’s saying herein, was, the more I neglect, the more unfit I am. Indeed, some ground will mend my lying still, but that’s better ground, than is in faln man’s heart. Ours is the ground that must be stirr’d, and manured, and quickned, and then some fruit will come. As one sin fits the heart for another. so one duty fits the soul for another. However, it’s better to serve thy Master with a trembling hand, than not at all, and the Father takes well a well-intended work, though it be unwillingly marred in the making.
- These distractions should not wholly discourage you in the performance of your duties. Despise you they must, discourage you they must not. Our good Master would not have us draw heavily in his service. It’s prophesied, Psal. 138.5. They shall sing in the waies of the Lord. This is a sweet hearing. God’s work goes best on, when we sing at it. All the infirmities of a Christian laid together, yet should not discourage him in his duty. Si dixeris, doleo, sufficit. And for your support, I lay down these incouragements.
- Distractions are consistent with grace . Grace may live with them, but not be lively long with them: They are like the blew and yellow weeds, that grow with the best corn that is. Grace may live with them, though it can never agree with them: and therefore conclude not against thy self, O I have no grace, I am so pestred with these things: surely no child of God hath such an heart. For this is an epidemick distemper; where-ever the hand of God hath sown good seed, the enemy hath scattered these his tares amongst it. Indeed there is no sin so crimson, that is absolutely inconsistent with grace, abate but that transcendent one, the sin against the Holy Ghost: Let no prophane heart make use hereof to hearten them in their sins: a prophane heart, I say, for a gracious heart is of another temper. Alas! the worst of sins do sometimes peep into the best mens hearts, yea may creep into them, and lodge in them for a season. How much more may a sudden thought break in, which, like lightning, springs into the heart without any warning? Do not therefore cry out, when this or any other corruption steals into your hearts, I am a lost man, this cannot consist with grace, but this should not consist with grace. The former conclusion being made, dejects the spirits; but the latter whe•s the spirit of amendment. It was foolishly done of Dinah, Gen. 34 1. To rove about to see the Daughters of the Land; it was not done like Iacob’s Daughter, but this was no argument for her to conclude, O I am not Iacob’s Daughter. So thou hast an heart like Dinah, of a gaddy temper, that runs abroad, and comes defiled home; this is not done like a sanctified heart, but it were a simple conclusion to draw hence, certainly I am no child of God, I have no true grace at all For alas, the sweetest Rose hath its prickles, the greatest wits have a spice of madness, and the sincerest heart hath some vanity in it .
- THE second Incouragement is, That your case is not singular. Though the commonness of a Plague make it not the better, or less mortal, yet it shews that I am not alone miserable: So, although this consideration make not the sin less heinous, yet it makes the affliction more tolerable. Poor soul! thou art not alone in thy complaints. Go to all the Saints in an Assembly, and they will all conclude, there is none hath a more giddy heart than they, and there’s few at the end of an Ordinance would be pleased, that the rest should know the particulars of their stragling. Though charity binds us in particular to hope better of every one than of our selves, yet both God’s Word, and common experience tell us in general, that the imaginations of the thoughts of men are evil continually. And there is none thinks themselves so bad, but there are found others, that would be glad to change hearts with them: some indeed are nearer the cure of this disease, and do watch more narrowly, and so have obtained more freedom than others, but yet all are tainted with this infirmity; and every man being convicted by his own conscience, will go out of the Congregation one by one, and there will not be a sinless man to cast a stone at thee .
THE third Incouragement is, That Christ’s Intercession for thee is without distraction. There was fire alwaies on the Altar, though the sacrifices were intermitted. His intercession is continual, ours is interrupted. What unspeakable comfort may a poor weak Christian take in this? that Christ Iesus is every moment, I say, every moment presenting to the Father, the unanswerable argument of his passion, for the impetrating and obtaining pardon, and grace, to help him in time of need. See Heb. 6.20. Heb. 3.25. Poor sinner! thou art sometimes so dead, that thou canst not pray to purpose, so guilty thou dost hardly pray, and oft so distracted, thou thinkest thy prayers stand for nothing, yet be not discouraged, thy Mediator is sick of none of these diseases. The holy Psalmist was sometimes, as Psa. 77.4. so troubled, that he could not speak; yet then had he one to speak for him. The sight of that precious glorified Son of of God, doth infinitely please and prevail with his Father for us, when we can hardly speak good sense for our selves.
I, but how can I tell that he intercedes for me?
Answ. 1. Hast thou a good word to speak for him to men? then hath he a good word to speak for thee to God.
And 2. Dost thou sigh, and groan, and speak for thy self as well as thou canst, his intercession is to help our weakness, not to excuse our laziness. If some ignorant poor man, that cannot say his errand, but is often out in his business, have a cordial friend (that hath the grace of speaking, and the favour to be heard) undertake his business, he needs not be discouraged: so, though you have much ado, and be often out in your best resolved duties, yet you have a friend in Court, that hath the Art of it, and the King’s ear beside, who ever liveth to make intercession for you, and therefore do your best, and never be discouraged.
THE fourth Incouragement is, That distracted duties may keep you humble, when as your perfect performances might make you proud. It is written of Master Knox, that on his death-bed, after he had received many blows from Satan about his sins, he was at last assaulted by him with this temptation, viz. That sure God owed him a kindness for his upright and industrious labours, until that 1 Cor. 4.7. was strongly imprinted on him, What hast thou which thou hast not received? Perhaps the Lord fore-saw, that thy heart was ready to be fly blown with pride, when thou dost well, and therefore he suffers these distractions, like Vultures to gnaw upon thy heart, to keep thee humble . Far be it from you to draw from hence an occasion to rest more securely in these sins. That Knight was sirnamed Fortunate, because, being on a time in the deck of a ship, a great wave came and took him off into the Sea, and another wave took him and set him on the deck of another ship; yet no man (I trow) would to obtain such a name, be content that a wave should so hazard him: Even so, though God do sometimes make use of our infirmities to do us good, yet let no man venture therefore to sin, that grace may abound, Because the Physician can so temper poison, that it may do thee good, wilt thou therefore venture to drink poison? It is miraculous wisdom in God to do thee good hereby, and it were miraculous folly in thee therefore to venture upon evil. And with this caution, I proceed and observe, that it is a very hard thing to hear, or pray exactly without some tang of spiritual pride after it: And to prevent this, God permits us to wander, and lose our selves, lest we should be lost; he sees that it is easier for a man to fall into a lesser evil, when he can turn it to a greater good, than to attain a lesser good, and hazard to fall into a greater evil. O when a man sees so much dreggs in his very best duties, such constant disapppointments, such foolish impertinencies in his heart, yea such wicked contrivances in the very presence of God, O then what a wretched man am I! surely I am more brutish than any man, I am not worthy to come to thee, nor think I my self worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof, no such sinner on earth as I; my best is very bad, &c . Thus the soul is throughly humbled, and brought to sit among the chief of sinners, and spiritual pride rebuked.
THE fifth Incouragement is, That our God can gather some sense out of a distracted duty, and do us some good by it , Rom. 8.27. He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, ’tis true of our spirit as well as of God’s. The great searcher of hearts knows what you came pregnant with, what you meant, though you mist it in the delivery. He can tell what was written in the Letter, though it did miscarry, and will answer your godly meaning, and over-look your unwilling failing, Psal. 103.13. As a Father pitieth his Children, so the Lord — Why, the child comes sometimes full of a suit to the Father, and he is quite out in his tale, has forgotten what he would have; but the Father knoweth what he wants, and what he would have said, and grants the whole. And so, provided thou be a child, and art heartily sensible of thy wants, and comest panting to the Throne of Grace; thy heavenly Father will accept thy meaning, and grant thy petition, though thy heart did unwillingly give thee the slip, while thou mournest for it, and resolvest to mend it the next time . The industrious Scholar comes sometimes full and clear in his lesson, but when he is delivering it, he is out: put him in his way; he is out again: Now, if his Master know, he had it perfect ere he came, he pities and helps him, and concludes, that fear or care made him miss it, and that his want is only in utterance, strokes him on the head, and bids him labour to do better next time. So the serious Christian, he is deeply sensible of his spiritual wants, and knows and feels well what he must ask, and down he kneels, but yet when he comes to open his case, alas! he’s drawn away utterly against his mind, and his heart runs at random . Why now your heavenly Master knows your preparation, your intention, your indeavour, your grief, your resolution, he will not turn off such a Scholar. He is a Father, and will make the best of his child’s faults, especially seeing him fallen out with himself for them.
THE sixth Incouragement under the burden of distractions, is, That there is grace and strength in Iesus Christ to help you against these your distractions. Without him we can do nothing to purpose; but that’s a sweet word, and a true, I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me, Phil. 4.13. There is a stock in Christ’s hand for such needy souls as you . You find your grace insufficient for you, but then his grace is sufficient. Lay the mouth of faith then to the two breasts of his power and pity, and suck thence divine power, to help your humane weakness. How can that little Cistern be empty, that lyes with a Conduit to the Ocean? How can that Wife be poor, whose Husband is a Prince? How can that body languish, whose head hath plenty of spirits, and power to convey them? why, he was anointed with the Oyl of Grace above his fellows, but it was for his fellows. He was rich for the poors sake; he was strong for the weaks sake. Be thou therefore strong in the grace that is in Christ Iesus, 2 Tim. 2.1. Your wound is not incurable, at this door others have sped, and so may you. Wrestle not therefore against these temptations, only in your own strength. The Devil is too strong for you alone, and the heart too deceitful. Not I, but the Grace of God with me, said Paul himself. If habitual grace be too weak for them, auxiliary grace is too strong. Mony in my friends purse, especially in my Fathers is as good, as in my own, especially when it is there for me. There never was seen a Lazarus lye dying at this Rich mans door for want. If there be any thing in Heaven to pleasure you that fear him, you shall not go without it.
THE seventh Incouragement is, That in Heaven you will be perfectly rid of your distractions. There his servants serve him without wandrings . Here you would serve him, there you shall se•ve him. Here we have the world to cumber and draw us off, there will be no other world but Heaven. Here the Devils stand at our right hand to resist us, there he shall never come, nor once peep among the Saints above. Here our flesh is continually suggesting evil motions, or crying, Master, spare thy self, but flesh and blood shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, nor trouble us there. Here the crowding of Gallants distracts us in publick, and the crying of children distracts us in private, but supreme Holiness will be all the Gallantry in Heaven, and no cryes were ever heard above. Here one untuneable voice distracts us in the Psalm; but there will be a perpetual Union, and the eternal Hallelujah shall be sung nemine contrasonante. Here this or that business calls us away, invades us in the middle, and curtails us at the end, but there is no other business to go to, no company to fetch you out, nothing that can give you such content, no nor any content, out of that blessed imployment. All the outward senses, and all the inward faculties will be so wholly taken up with the vision and fruition of the Ever-blessed Trinity, that there will not be room for one by thought, or glance from that fair object to all eternity. O run apace, and you will be shortly there, dispatch your work with all the speed you can, fly with an holy hast through all worldly business, cast anchor at no worldly comfort, till you discover Land, till your work be done, and your place in Heaven ready for you, And in the Interim, be not discouraged at your rovings, for you are not yet in Heaven . Perfection is reward as well as duty, and so is our aim here, but our attainment there: And let that happy state be a copy by which you write your present duties. Think sometimes when you are dull and roving, you saw a Casement open into Heaven, and there beheld those coelestial sacrifices, and their divine imployment; and think withall, shortly shall I be among them, and do I pray here, as I would sing yonder? doth this impertinent frame sort with yonder most blessed frame? why art thou cast down, O my soul! I shall yet praise him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God. And this may be for incouragement to poor souls, that are fainting under the burden of their distractions.
And now at last we see the shore, and so shall only lay on some binding sheaves, and drive away; and that will be by noting some Inferences from the subject, which is the Truth, and last point to be handled.
CHAP. X. Inferences from this Doctrine.
THE first Inference from this Doctrine and Subject, is, That we have cause to mourn over our best duties, and when we have written fairest, to throw dust thereon . Alas! what swarms of Flies corrupt our pot of ointment, and what a savour do these leave thereupon, in the nostrils of God? we can hardly ever be busie within, but vain thoughts send for us without. As our Lord Iesus could not be about his great work, but they came with this disturbance, Yonder stand thy Mother and Brethre• without, to speak with thee: So it is with us; the Devil and our hearts together, give us no quiet, when never so busie, but will molest and cry, yonder is such a business to speak with thee, this Iron burns, and that work must be ordered. Alas! what broken and torn sacrifices do we bring to our God? what a fair escape have we with our lives and senses out of the presence of God? As that Emperour killed the Centinel on the place, whom he found asleep; saying, Dead I found thee, and dead I leave thee. So most justly might the Lord answer our distracted duties, with distracting terrours, and leave us under the judgement of distraction, for our sins in distractions. And what a piece of ignorance and impudence is it, for any man to be proud of his duties? Alas! the best duties are of divers colours, like the Beggar’s Coat, and what Beggar will be proud of his patched Coat? If there were any flowers or spices in thy duties, they were none of thine, from thee came all the stench, from above came all the perfumes; and what poor reason then hast thou to be proud? It is sad, that when our sins make us humble, our duties should make us proud, Isa. 64.6. We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy raggs, for there is none that —stirreth up himself to take hold of thee. With what shame and trouble would we go among folks, if we had no better cloaths than filthy raggs? and yet how high we look, that have no better cloaths of our own, upon our souls? if you wear any better, they are borrowed garments, and what silly wretch is proud of borrowed garments?
And this shews likewise, what need we have of the Righteousness of Iesus Christ, to make our prayers pass into the holy place. It was the smoak of the Incense which came with the prayers of the Saints, and ascended up before God out of the Angels hand, Rev. 8.4. The prayers of the Saints themselves, are like smoak in God’s eyes (to speak with reverence) but the smoak of the Incense is a perfume in God’s nostrils. Iesus Christ can be heard when we cannot. Our quaintest Oratory is broken and ineffectual. His intercession is constant and Imperatory. Go therefore to the Throne of Grace, leaning on your Beloved. Keep an actual eye to Christ’s mediation in your prayers, and though you bring in his precious Name in the fagg end of your supplication, yet remember you have need of him in every sentence; a broken prayer had need of an intire Mediator.
- IT follows hence, That omissions of holy duties are extremely dangerous. Into these our fall is most frequent, against these our watch is most careless, after these our mourning is most easie: yet of these the number great, and the nature heinous. If according to that, Ier. 48.10. He be cursed that doth the work of the Lord negligently, what is he that doth not God’s work, one way, or other? If a distraction in prayer may damn• O what may an Omission of prayer do! If the Scholar be whipt that looks off his book, what will become of him that plaid the truant! Do the consciences of God’s children smite them for vain thoughts in a duty, how should yours wound you, that you have no thoughts of your duty! O you that omit secret prayer, reading the Scripture, meditation, and such like, will your negligence pass with God? He sees how seldom you sigh in secret; what strangers you are to prayers and tears: should one in some cases, refuse marriage for fear of distractions in God’s service? and can you wholly omit his service without danger! Are watchfulness and seriousness such dispensable things, that they are happy that have them, but one may do well without them? I tell you, he that chastens his careless children, will punish his graceless servants. He that makes them smart for their distractions, will make you tremble for your omissions. Undone duty will undo your souls. It’s not enough that you have left off the language of swearing, unless you have learnt the language of praying. It’s not enough that you have burnt your books of curious Arts, unless you love to read in the Book of Books, the Scripture. To be mortified to contemplative wickedness is well, but till you be vivified to contemplative holiness, it is not well enough. Do you must, or die you shall. You may come to Hell as certainly by not climbing up, as by running down; and lose Heaven by Naturality, as well as by Hostility. When you have read the 25th. chap. of Matthew, you shall tell me, whether wanting Oyl may not as truly ruin you, as drinking poison; whether an unprofitable servant will not come to a sad reckoning, as well as a prodigal Son. Though you take not anothers, yet you may be consumed for not giving your own; and in fine, you will find, that sins of omission do deserve damnation.
O hearken to this, all ye that live quietly, in the omission of closer or family-prayer, of solemn fasting, or communion in the blessed Supper of the Lord. Hath God abated you of the price that others must give? hath he granted a new way to Heaven for you? must others make Religion their business, and you baulk it where you please? what can your consciences answer to that, Iam. 2.10. If a a man keep the whole Law (mark, the whole Law) and yet offend [Gr. stumble, stumble and stop] at one point, he is guilty of all: O beloved! there is a concatenation of Truths and Duties in Religion, you may easier go away with all your work than some; a negative holiness will but bring you to a negative Heaven, and you know, behind Heaven-door, is Hell. O awaken therefore your hearts, ye that stick at this point, that are far from debauchery, and excess any way, but will not be gotten to positive duties. Will ye with one dash expunge the one half of Scripture! Is not Good as amiable, as Evil is hateful? what cause is there to fear, that your avoidance of evil is from no good principle, but either fear, or shame, or interest, or at the best, a better temper? For the love or fear of God would make you cleave to that which is good, as well as abhor that which is evil, and to do God’s will, as well as deny your own.
III. SEE hence what grand necesit•y we have of Watchfulness; that most continual duty of a Christian; this is the garment we must put on next us every day, especially in every duty. Between duties, that we may not want praying hearts; in duties, that we miss not prayer-blessings. Some duties bind alwaies, but not to be alwaies done, as prayer, hearing, meditation, but you can be safe no where without your watch , at all times, in all places, with all companies, yea with no company, in all callings; there is a snare for the heart every where. Wherefore saith the Prophet Hosea 12.6. Wait on thy God continually; and the wise man, Prov. 23, 17. Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long; especially, but not only in your morning and evening sacrifices. It is a true and a sad observation, that many praying people are most devout and serious in God’s service morning and evening; but trace them all day long, hardly one word of God, or Heaven in their mouths, as if Religion were hem’d up in times of Worship; nay, they are often most light and vain betwixt times: but be thou IN the fear of the Lord, involved, surrounded and swallowed up in the sense and fear of God’s glorious presence, all the day long . This will dispose you to duties of Worship. A watchful Christian hath his heart ready at a call: it is quickly in tune that was never out. Holy duties are not heterogeneous to any holy heart, the same frame will serve. He that walks with God, is never out of his way. A short, or rather no preface, will serve to usher in conference, with whom you have been conversing all the day. It is sometimes the whole work of a prayer to be acquainted with God. Away with this strangeness; if you will be upright, walk before God, and watch unto prayer. Methinks, sincerity and watchfulness are the Catholick Graces . Sincerity makes every grace true, watchfulness makes every grace sure. Of all graces, study these Catholick Graces. Here is the essence, here is the quintessence of Religion. O therefore prize this Angelical, this Evangelical Grace, pray for it, Psal. 141.3. Set a watch O Lord before my mouth, keep the door of my lips; for except the Lord do keep the City, the watch-man waketh but in vain. Thou art impotent, God is omnipotent. And then practise it, the use of it will teach the Art of it; as children learn to go step by step, as they learn to swim, by venturing. Adventure on this exercise, try one week, try one day, try one hour, try the next duty. As you renew your falls, still renew your vows; you can do all things through Christ that will strengthen you. I beseech you in Christ’s behalf, set on this duty in good earnest. You will pay me for all my pains with one well-grounded resolution, to set up a constant watch. What a sad close will that be unto your life, to say, Cant. 1.6. My Mothers’s children made me a keeper of the Vineyards, but MINE OWN VINEYARD have I not kept? O therefore watch and pray, or else temptation will enter into you, and you will fall into temptation.
And most especially in the service of God . Watch and pray Christ hath joyned together, and what Christ hath joyned together, let no man, especially no good man put asunder. What is the first step in an Ordinance? (as the Orator of old in another case) Watchfulness. What is the second step in an Ordinance? Watchfulness. What is the third step in an Ordinance? still Watchfulness. Particularly
First, In Prayer. Prayer is a pouring out the heart unto the Lord; by a distraction you pour it by Psal. 62.5. My soul, wait thou ONLY upon God, for my expectation is from him. A distraction imposes two Masters on the soul to wait on. Rovings in prayer make that which is our most reasonable service, the most irrational thing in the world. No folly like speaking to one person, and thinking of another .
Secondly, In hearing God’s Word. This is the audible conference of the Almighty with thy soul. A distraction lets him talk unto the walls. When you come to a Sermon, you stand on your watch, and set your self on the Tower, and watch to see what God will say to you, Hab. 2.1. By a distraction you do almost, as if a servant stopt his ears at the orders that his Master is giving.
Thirdly, In reading. Therein you peruse God’s heart in black and white, where you may believe every letter to be written in blood, not like Draco’s Laws, but in bleeding love. A distraction neither understands, nor applies those sacred characters. Which of you would so read your Father’s last Will, especially in matters that concern’d your selves? One chapter, one leaf, one verse well read and applied, will do your heart more good, than an hundred read with half an heart.
Fourthly, In singing Psalms, you had need to watch• Thereby you pay unto God the Rent of his mercies. A distraction clips the coin, and turns the heart to do homage to the Devil. Well resolved therefore of David, Psal. 103.1. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and ALL THAT IS WITHIN ME praise his holy Name. Thy melody is base, if the main strength of the soul be not in it. I am perswaded that God hath suffer’d this Ordinance in particular to be slurr’d once and again, to be left off by some, and cast off by others, out of his just Judgement, there being so general a neglect of the inward and feeling management thereof. For where sits the man , that lets each word and line in the Psalms, run through his heart as he sings them? Nay, if the truth were known, there is hardly one passage, that’s felt from the beginning to the end: for if it were, O the heavenly affections it would raise, and the sweet frame it would leave on the soul! you would not part with that Ordinance out of your Families, nor Congregations, for all the world.
Fifthly, In Meditation, great need of watchfulness, else when the soul is soaring aloft, like the Eagle, these darts will, or ever you are aware, strike down the heart again. O how hard is it to spend a quarter of an hour in meditation without a distraction! If there be any thing in the fancy, if there be any thing in the room, if there be any thing in the world, thou wilt have it, to withdraw thy heart from God. And generally the more spiritual the duty, the more distractions. And therefore I say unto you, watch.
- SEE hence what cause you have to bless God for freedom from distractions, and be sure you do it. Those that have an habitual ability against these snares, O bless the Lord for it! it’s he that keeps the heart in tune, not you. We like little children, can break the strings, and put our hearts out of tune, but ’tis the Lord that sets and keeps us in order. You little know the anxiety, and fear, and trouble, that these do cost many a poor Christian; they strive, they mourn, they doubt, they are ready to throw up all: These Vultures do gnaw upon their very hearts; no comfort, no joy of the Holy Ghost, no peace within, and all through the continual assaults hereof. And by the only mercy of God thou art well and free. Thou canst continue instant in prayer, thou canst come to Heaven gates, and get thy errand heard, thy business dispatcht, and little distraction in it. O give the Lord praise, lest he leave thee to thy self, and then thy case will be more miserable than theirs. Thankfulness keeps the mercy which ingratitude forfeits. And we are Free-holders of these blessings, but ’tis because we hold of his free grace and mercy.
Yea, those that are oft pestered with them, and yet sometimes freed, bless the Lord for that. It is as much your duty to praise God when you are freed, as to bewail it when you have failed. It is the comparison of a good Divine; if a man have planted many Trees in his Orchard, and the Caterpillars, or Cankers have consumed them all, but one or two, how glad will he be of them that are left, and make much of them? the rest are kill’d, and these only remain. Even so thy duties of Religion, which thou hast planted, and expectedst they should bring thee some good fruit; but alas! these Caterpillars have consumed it, unless it be here and there a prayer, here and there a Sermon, that have scap’d; O bless the Lord for these! you have often prayed for such a mercy, now you have it: Let praises wear, what prayers have won. It is sad to consider, what a beggarly spirit we are of: if we want any thing, Heaven and Earth shall ring of us; but we are graves, wherein the gifts of God are buried without any resurrection. Where is the heart that is pregnant with praises, that cries out to his friend, O help me to praise the Lord! Divide our lives, and the one half of them is mercies, and the other half is sins: and yet divide our prayers, and hardly the tenth part is spent in praises. Alas! thanks is a tacite begging. Let God gain the glory, and thou shalt not lose the advantage. The God of Israel is he that giveth strength to his people, blessed be God, Psal. 68.35. Conclude with the Psalmist, Not unto me, O Lord, not unto me, but unto thy Name give glory. Think not, when thou hast attended on the Lord without distractions, I have quit my self well, but mercy hath quit its self well. He that justly payes his score shall be trusted again.
- YOU see here in the last place, That Religion is an inward, a difficult, and a serious business, Rom. 2.28, 29. He is not a Iew that is one outwardly — But he is a Iew, that is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God. To be watchful and holy within, that’s a Christian; to have the vanities of the heart cut off, that’s circumcision; to carry it so in an Ordinance, that you may be praised of God, that’s Religion: while others are quarrelling about shadows in God’s Ordinances, beware le•t you lose the substance thereof.
There is in Religion a Body and a Soul. The Religion of the body, is but the body of Religion, the Religion of the soul, is the soul of Religion. And as the separation of the body and the soul, is the death of a man; so the divorcing asunder the form and power of godliness, is the death of godliness. As it is injury to macerate and destroy the body for to cure and save the soul; so it is a crime to damn and lose the soul, to please and pamper the body. Even so it is injurious to destroy the body and outside of Religion, to preserve and advance the soul and inside of Religion; but it is heinous to lose and break the heart of the inside and vitals of Religion, to pamper and adorn the exteriours thereof. It is well, if while we quarrel about a bended knee, we do not lose a broken heart. Is the folly of the Quakers criminal for killing Religion in her body? how sinful then is Formality, that slayes Religion in her soul!
And then you see here also, that Religion is a difficult and serious business; men cannot swim to Heaven in a stream of Rose water, nor row up this River while they are asleep: we cannot wrestle with our God, with our hands in our pockets, nor get the blessing without sweat and tears. To repeat so many Pater nosters, or Ave-maries, with the heart on other things, and running sometimes from their knees to other business, in the midst of their Devotion, as many do in the Church of Rome ; or, to say our prayers, and be slumbring, or dressing us the while, as in the guise of many outside Christians, is far from our Religion. The manner of duties is material to the acceptation of them. Ah stupid worldlings! how can ye read those Scriptures, Mat. 7.14. Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it, Mat. 11.12. The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force, and such like, and yet hope for salvation in that secure and formal course you hold. Do you imagine, there are two waies to Heaven, one for the diligent mortified and watchful Christian, and another for the idle sluggard, or carnal worldling! Have the holiest Saints much ado to walk with God, and get to him, that make it their business? they are saved, and that’s all; and can you live and die well enough, that are neither mortified, nor watchful, nor diligent, that have no delight, but in your vanities? no skill, but in the world? no diligence, but for your base ends? what back-way have you found to Heaven? what blind way have you descried to happiness? Awake, awake! look at the Scripture, and then look at your selves, and be convinced, that the only way to eternal happiness, is to make Christ your choice, Religion your business, the Scriptures your Rule, Heaven your design, the Saints your company, and the Ordinances your delight; and in them, remember that you go to attend upon the Lord, and this must be done without Distractions.
And now you know your duty and your danger. The end of speculation is practice, and the end of our Preaching is not your approbation, but your submission. The Christian Religion is not so much the form of spiritual Notions, as the power of spiritual Motions. He that complements in God’s service, will complement his soul into Hell. The outside of Religion may bring you to the the outside of Heaven, but inside-holiness will conduct you into the inside of happiness. If these Directions I have given be but studied and applied, as you would study and apply a medicine for the Gout, or Stone, or but the Toothach, I verily trust they will prove the destruction of your distractions: But if they be neglected, your distractions will prove your destruction.