Book 3 - Chapter 9: Of Spiritual Peace - by Herman WitsiusThe Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius
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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)
Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).
Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.
This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.
Chapter IX: Of Spiritual Peace
I. RECONCILIATION stands in close connexion with justification, the consummation of which is a spiritual, holy, and blessed peace: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Rom. 5:1.
II. This peace is “a mutual concord between God and the sinner, who is justified by faith; so that the heart of God is carried out towards man, and, in like manner, the heart of man towards God, by a delightful inclination of friendship. God thus addresses the church, when reconciled to him: “Thou shalt no more be termed forsaken, neither shall thy land be any more termed desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi bah (my delight), and thy land, Beulah (married): for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married,” Isa. 62:4. And the church, in her turn, replies, “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength,” Psa. 18:1.
III. This blessed peace pre-supposes that unhappy and destructive war, which the inconsiderate sinner had raised between God and himself; concerning which the prophet says, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you,” Isa. 59:2. By sin man lost the favour and friendship of God, and incurred his righteous hatred and displeasure, which “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” Rom. 1:18; and is threatened by the curse of the law, Deut. 27:26; felt in the conscience, which trembles at every voice of God, Gen. 3:8, and is the bitter source of all that anguish which is the forerunner of eternal destruction. And on the other hand, man is carried out to a dreadful hatred of God, Rom. 1:30. After sin became his delight, he became an enemy to all holiness, and consequently a most bitter enemy to God, because He is the most unspotted holiness. Whatever wisdom he has, it is enmity against God, Rom. 8:7. He hath joined himself to the devil, under whose banner he fights against God. “He stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty: he runneth upon him, even on his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers,” Job 15:25, 26. If any thing is propounded to him out of the law of God, he the more boldly acts contrary to it, Rom. 7:8. Whenever he feels the effects of divine indignation, he, with the most reproachful words, reviles the most holy justice of God, Is. 8:21. And almost goes so far as to wish, that either there was no God, or that he did not punish sin. The first of these tends to destroy the existence of God; the other his holiness, without which (horrid to think!) he would be a wicked spirit. But seeing “God is greater than man,” Job 33:12, this war cannot but prove fatal to man. “God is wise in heart and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?” Job 9:4.
IV. In this very grievous war, all hopes of an uniting peace seem to be entirely cut off. For it cannot be devised in what manner, either God can be reconciled to man, or man to God. The holiness of God does not suffer him to allow the sinner communion with himself, lest he should seem to be like him, Psa. 50:21. The justice of God demands punishment, Rom. 1:32. The truth of God threatens death, Gen. 3:3. And it is on no account to be expected, that God would make a peace in favour of man, who despises him, to the prejudice of any of his own perfections: for “he cannot deny himself,” 2 Tim. 2:13. And man, on his part, is no less averse to peace; for though he will find nothing but ruin in this war, and all manner of good in this peace, yet he is so infatuated, so much an enemy to himself, that he madly hardens himself to his own destruction. Being subjected to the power of sin and Satan, he freely and fully serveth them. These blind the eyes of his understanding, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ should shine unto him, 2 Cor. 4:4; and so lead him captive at their will, that he neither can nor dare think in what manner he may recover himself out of the snare of the devil, and be reconciled to God, 2 Tim. 2:26.
V. But God, whose understanding there is no searching out, Isa. 40:28, was able to find out a method and way whereby all these difficulties could be surmounted. For he hath a Son, who, being given to be the mediator and surety, made satisfaction to his holiness, justice, and veracity, and thus on his part God is reconciled, 2 Cor. 5:19. Moreover, that Son has a Spirit, far more powerful than the infernal spirit, who, by his turning and inclining efficacy, can expel the hatred of God out of our hearts, and shed abroad the love of God there; to whose guidance and influence if man gives himself up, that blessed peace will be soon procured of which we are now to treat.
VI. Hence it appears, that the rise and beginning of this peace is from God: accordingly it is called “the peace of God;” and God himself, “the God of peace,” Phil. 4:7, 9. The Father hath established “the counsel of peace,” Zech. 6:13. And therefore it is ascribed to him, as the original of it, that having made peace, he reconciled all things unto himself, Col. 1:20. The Son hath executed that counsel of peace; and, by shedding his precious blood, removed all obstructions, and actually obtained for the elect the grace and favour of his Father, which was long before designed for them. He therefore calls this his own peace; and declares that he gives it, John 14:27; nay, he is called “the Prince of peace”, Isa. 9:5, and “King of peace,” prefigured by Melchizedek, Heb. 7:2; and “the peace,” Mich. 5:5; and “our peace,” Eph. 2:14. The Holy Spirit, the messenger of so great a happiness, like Noah’s dove with an olive-branch, flies, at the appointed moment of grace, to the elect, and effectually offers and brings home to them the peace decreed by the Father, and purchased by Christ: hence peace is said to be by the Holy Ghost, Rom. 14:17.
VII. The fountain of this peace, and the first cause of it, can be nothing but the infinite mercy and philanthropy of God: and this is the reason, why the apostles, in their Epistles, wishing peace to believers, usually set grace before it, as the spring of that peace. Which is the more evident, because as there was nothing in man that could invite God to make peace with him (“for, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” Rom. 5:10), so in like manner, God, who is all-sufficient to himself for all happiness, could gain nothing by this peace. The whole advantage thereof redounds to man: the glory of so great a work is due to God alone.
VIII. Man ought surely not to hear the least report of this peace, without being directly carried with the greatest vigour of soul, to obtain it for himself. And though he should be obliged to go to the utmost end of the earth, for instruction in the manner how to procure it, he should undertake the journey with the utmost diligence and readiness. But behold the incredible benevolence of the Deity, who not only in his word sufficiently instructs men in the excellency of so great a blessing, but also fully informs them in what manner they may enjoy it, by putting the word of reconciliation in the mouth of his servants, 2 Cor. 5:19. “I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord,” Isa. 57:19. But this is not all, for he also is the first who sends ambassadors to men to offer peace. Would it not have been inestimable grace, if, after many and solicitous entreaties, he had suffered himself to be at length prevailed upon by us, as Herod, who with difficulty granted peace to the Tyrians after their most earnest requests? See Acts 12:20. But he not only freely offers, but also solicits and affectionately entreats and beseeches men by his ambassadors, that they would not refuse to be reconciled to him, 2 Cor. 5:20. And though his tremendous majesty has been often scornfully despised, and though he has for a long time addressed himself to their ears by his most alluring invitations, and all to no purpose; yet he does not desist, but again and again presses, over and over urges that affair of peace, and compels with so much gentleness the most obstinate to partake of his friendship and love, Luke 14:23. Such is the infinite goodness of the Supreme Being.
IX. But he does not stop here; for as the word of grace, though preached in the most pathetic manner, actually draws none without the secret operation of the Spirit of God, so he graciously bestows that Spirit on man; who at length opens the eyes of the understanding, that wretched men may see how bad their case is while they continue in that dreadful hostility, and on the other hand what superabundant happiness the peace so often tendered will bring along with it. He tames the wild and savage hearts, and subdues them to the obedience of God and of Christ. First he strikes them to the heart with a view of their sins, and with some sense of divine indignation; upon this, he presents them with some distant hope of obtaining peace; after this, he declares with greater earnestness the loving-kindness of God to the trembling soul; and then excites the greatest longings after the enjoyment of it, and thus, by little and little, he disposes the inmost powers of the soul, to hate whatever is contrary to God, to declare war against his enemies, submissively to entreat his favour, cheerfully to accept of it when actually offered, and give themselves up, without reserve, to be governed by the Spirit, who procures so great a happiness for them. Thus at length the man is translated into such a state, that, all enmity being on both sides blotted out, God lays aside the remembrance of past offences, appears no more as an enemy to him, but, being reconciled, deals with him as a friend: the man, likewise, being grieved for having formerly offended God, now endeavours with all care to please him. And these are the beginnings of the spiritual peace with God.
X. But these are beginnings only; for, no sooner is the man in covenant with God, but he becomes the confederate and the friend of that great King, James. 2:23, John 15:14, 15. The gates of the heavenly palace are set open to him; and free access in the Spirit is granted him at all times, by night or by day. He may behold the King of glory nigh at hand, pour out all the oppressing grievances of his soul into his bosom, confidently make known his stammering requests for a fuller measure of grace; while God, instead of forbidding him, does even, by his condescending goodness, give him encouragement to attempt it. Cant. 1:14. He may often be earnest for the same things, and with a friendly and agreeable importunity wrestle with God (with reverence of his majesty be it spoken!), who condescends, as it were, to solace himself with us, till we have in a manner forced the blessings we stand in need of out of his hands. Moses is an example of this, Exod. 33:12, and following verses.
XI. God also himself sometimes descends from heaven by his grace, and graciously visits the soul whom he loves, and who is filled with love for him, John 14:23; speaks to his heart, Hos. 2:14; displays the riches of his supereminent goodness, and “what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,” Eph. 1:18. He comforts him when dejected, and wipes away his tears with his own hand, Rev. 7:17, and puts them as a precious liquor into his bottle, Psa. 57:8. He gives “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,” Isa. 61:3. “Kisses” the soul “with the kisses of his mouth,” Cant. 1:2; and if, at any time, she is sick of love, “his left hand is under her head, and his right hand doth embrace her,” Cant. 2:6. In fine, whatever good he is possessed of (and what is there he is not?), he liberally communicates all in that time, order, and degree which his wisdom knows to be most expedient. And what will he not give, who gives himself, as “an exceeding great reward?” Gen. 15:1.
XII. Who can doubt, but they who taste this incredible sweetness of divine love do infinitely prefer the friendship of God to all other things? Hence when they gratefully acknowledge the things they have been so graciously favoured with, beyond what they deserve, they carefully avoid every thing unworthy of such friendship, and which may mar such a propense favour of the Deity by any coldness. Whereas they most readily perform what they know to be acceptable to God; and then at length it is they seem to themselves to live, when in the whole tenour of their lives they approve themselves to God. And seeing they know that love deserves love; and that true friendship consists in this, that friends choose and refuse the same things; they stir up all their powers to make returns of love, and submit their will to that of God, and give it up to be swallowed up, as it were, in the divine will, and thus at length, with the King of angels, they bear the sweet yoke of love. “The love of God begets the love of the soul, and attracts it to himself. God loves, in order to be loved. When he loves, he desires nothing more than to be loved again, knowing those to be happy in love who love him. The soul that loves, renounces all its affections, and minds nothing but love, that it may give love for love. And when it has poured out itself wholly in love, what is that to the constant flow of the fountain?” So Augustine piously speaks, Manual c. 20.
XIII. During these transactions in the soul, and while the daily contest of mutual friendship between it and God is renewed, it cannot but enjoy the most delightful peace of conscience. When the conscience discovers the favourable sentence of God concerning man, and intimates the same to itself, and at the same time bears testimony to his unfeigned piety towards God, it spreads a surprising serenity and calm over the whole soul. Consequently, the peace of God necessarily brings with it peace of conscience, and much confidence in God, Rom. 14:7; Eph. 3:12. The soul nowhere reposes itself more comfortably, than in that bed of tranquillity, and in the bosom of Jesus, its loveing, lovely spouse, singing at that time to its adversaries; “Know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep; for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” Psa. 4:3, 8. “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.” Psa. 3:5.
XIV. There is also a friendship with all the other friends of God; not only with holy men, who mutually help and comfort one another by communion of prayers and other duties of brotherly love, Psa. 16:3, and who, without envy, mutually congratulate each other on the gifts conferred on every one in particular, by their common Friend; but also with the blessed angels, who were formerly enemies to man when he was the enemy of God, and kept our first parents from all access to paradise, Gen. 3:24, but now minister to man with the greatest complacency and readiness, Heb. 1:14—”encamp round about him,” Psa. 34:7—”keep him in all his ways, bear him up in their hands, least he dash his foot against a stone,” Psa. 91:11, 12, till at the command of God they convey the reconciled soul to the blessed choir of the inhabitants of heaven. And though at present they do not usually appear in a visible form, yet they familiarly surround and guard the friends of God, avert very many evils, procure good, and acknowledge them for their fellow-servants, Rev. 19:10. On this account the apostle testifies, that believers, even in this world, are come to myriads [an innumerable company] of angels, Heb. 12:22. And can mortals have any thing more glorious, than, next to God, to be admitted into the bonds of fellowship and friendship with these most noble spirits whom the apostle, Col. 1:16, calls thrones, dominions, principalities and powers.
XV. I add, that, peace being made with God, none of the creatures can exercise any acts of hostility against believers, to the prejudice of their salvation. According to the promise, Job 5:23, 24: “Thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field; and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee. And thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace.” Which is repeated, Hos. 2:18: “And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground.” The plain meaning of these passages seems to be this: rocks and stones shall be soft to the friends of God, they shall not hurt their feet; they shall not be molested by any rocky dismal places, where either robbers usually lie in wait, or in which the beasts of the field are harboured. For God so restrains them that they are not able to hurt them, but are compelled to submit and be subservient to hurt them; the ravenous fowls themselves and poisonous reptiles, and they who are emblematically represented by these, as well men as malignant spirits, shall have no power to do them harm, Psa. 91:13, Mark 16:18. It is true, they cannot have any amicable peace with the enemies of God, the world and the devil; and it is certain that they are then most grievously harassed by their persecutions when they cultivate peace with God; nevertheless, all the attempts of hell and the world against them are in vain: “Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded; they shall be as nothing, and they that strive with thee shall perish: thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee; they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.” Isa. 41:11, 12: add Isa. 54:14–17.
XVI. And the efforts of their enemies are not only in vain, but without their knowledge and against their will they promote their salvation, and the devils are constrained to bring the friends of God nearer to heaven, from which they themselves shall be for ever banished. Thus the chief master of pride became by his buffetings a teacher of humility to Paul, 2 Cor. 12:7. So true it is, “that all things work together for good to them that love God,” Rom. 8:28.
XVII. Abundance of all salutary good things flows from this peace, which the Psalmist, Psa. 144:13, describes to the life. And though it often happens, that the friends of God, as to the outward man, drag a life, which scarce deserves that name, amidst poverty, contempt and diseases; yet since the least good thing they enjoy in all these calamities, is bestowed upon them by the special love of God, is the most noble fruit of the cross of Christ, and gives them to taste the infinite goodness of the Deity, therefore, “that little that a righteous man hath, is better than the riches of many wicked,” Psa. 37:16. For he has it from, and with the favour of God, who is the inexhausted fountain of all desirable things. Nay, the very evils with which they are overwhelmed turn to their advantage, for they serve to humble them, to build them up in faith, patience, and self-denial, and wean them from the vanities of the world and carry them towards heaven. Hence in their very adversities they find matter of joy and glorying, Rom. 5:3, John. 1:2.
XVIII. From what we have said the excellency of this peace is easily concluded, which the apostle, Phil. 4:7, describes “as passing all understanding;” it is therefore worthy to be sought after with the utmost diligence, kept when obtained, and renewed when interrupted.
XIX. God indeed graciously tenders it in the word of the gospel; but not as if the sinner is to do nothing before he enjoys the inward sense of it. For this purpose it is necessary, 1st. That he confess that, on account of his very many and very heinous offences, he is altogether unworthy of the peace and friendship of God, and seriously grieve for them, Luke 15:21, Psa. 32:5, 6, Prov. 28:13. 2dly, With sorrow observe and declare that he can do nothing that is able to appease the justly provoked Deity, Mic. 6:6, 7; but put all his hopes in the blood of Christ alone, the application of which depends on the good pleasure of the Lord himself. 3dly, Give himself up humbly to God, thus thinking with himself: “Since without peace with God there is nothing but ruin, I will approach to the throne of grace, humbly begging for pardon and mercy; if he is pleased to reach out his golden sceptre of grace to me, I will eternally praise him; but if in anger he turns away his face, I will confess his justice, and proclaim it worthy of all praise though it should be rigid to my destruction, and say, I will die at his feet without repining.” See Esth. 4:16. This absolute resignation and surrender, cannot but be acceptable to God, and salutary to man. 4thly, That he add to his devout prayers, reformation of life; sincerely keep his heart and actions from what he knows to be contrary to God; declare war against God’s enemies; will love and do what becomes the friends of God. In this way let him “draw nigh to God, and God will draw nigh to him,” James. 4:8.
XX. No less diligent care is necessary to preserve the peace thus obtained, and daily to increase in intimacy with the divine favour and friendship. For this there is required: 1st. A daily exciting of his love to God by devout meditation, both on the divine perfections, on account of which he is most highly amiable in himself, and on his infinite love, wherewith he first loved us, and the inestimable benefits flowing from that infinite love. For God cannot possibly suffer himself to be exceeded in love by man. John 14:21: “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” 2dly. Frequent intercourse with God; so that worldly cares being for a little laid aside, and a pleasant retirement sought out, you may, by frequent and repeated exercises of reading, meditation, and prayer, with a modest boldness, obtain familiarity with God, Job 22:21: “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto thee.” It was a fine advice of Jerome to Eustachius, de Custodia Virginitatis: “Let the privacy of thy chamber always keep thee; let thy bridegroom always delight himself within thee; when thou prayest, thou speakest to thy bridegroom; when thou readest, he speaketh to thee: let foolish virgins wander abroad, be thou within with thy bridegroom; because, if thou shuttest thy door, and according to the precept of the gospel, prayest to thy Father in secret, he will come and knock, and say: Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” 3dly, The practice of inoffensive and strict godliness, with an attentive watchfulness against the sins that so easily beset us. These things flow from the love of God, and without them none can have familiar converse with him. John 14:23: “If a man love me he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.” The exercise of Christian virtues or graces, is that chain of the spouse with which the heart of the Lord is ravished, Cant. 4:9. “The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness, and assurance for ever,” Isa. 32:7, compare Isa. 64:5. 4thly, Because in this imperfect state of our sanctification it cannot altogether be avoided, but at times the godly may fall, and turn a little either to the right hand or to the left; they are, in that case, presently to rise from their fall and return to their God, unless they would greatly impair their familiarity with him. When he calls us, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings;” we are directly to answer: “Behold, we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God,” Jer. 3:22. 5thly. It also contributes very much to preserve the sense of the divine friendship, if in all things you commit yourself to the conduct of his Providence, always approving his will towards thee, to be just, holy, wise, and good; and saying with Job 34:12, “Yea, surely God will not do wickedly.” In whatever befalls thee give him thanks; and, denying all thy own desires, give up thy will to be swallowed up in his. “Be careful for nothing—and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6, 7.
XXI. Although it is not possible that any who is admitted into peace and friendship with God should altogether fall from it (for the covenant of divine peace, which stands firmer than the mountains and hills, shall never be removed, Isa. 54:10), yet the sense and relish thereof are often interrupted. For, 1st, God doth not always show his pleasant countenance to his friends; sometimes he hides himself, Isa. 8:17; standeth afar off, Psa. 10:1; admits them not into familiarity with him, nor fills them with the abundance of his consolations; he hears not when they call, Psa. 22:2, 3; as if he regarded them not. 2dly, Nay, he thrusts them from him with a kind of contempt, as if a father had disdainfully spit in the face of his daughter, Numbers. 12:14; and “is angry against their prayer,” Psalm. 80:4. 3dly. He terrifies them with many sorrows; not only by hiding his face, without which there is no joy, Psa. 30:7, but by his fierce anger going over them, Psa. 88:16–17, Isa. 57:17. 4thly. He seems to deal with them as an adversary, and holdeth them for his enemies, and pursues them, though become like the dry stubble, writes bitter things against them, putteth their feet in the stocks, and setteth a print upon the heels of their feet, Job 13:24–27, 5thly. Gives them up sometimes to be vexed and buffeted by the devil, Job 2:6. After that the light of the divine countenance is set, immediately the beasts of the forest come forth against the soul, the young lions roaring after their prey. Psa. 104:20, 21.
XXII. The reasons of this conduct of God towards his friends are various: some respect God; others, the friends of God. God thus deals with his people: 1st. In order to show, that he is the sovereign Lord, and most free dispenser of his own grace, Matt. 20:15. Thus himself owns that he afflicted chap. Job 2:3, without cause. Not that Job had done nothing to deserve these, or even greater afflictions, but that God had found nothing in him for which to treat him with greater severity than his other friends. This was an act of mere sovereignty, that the works of God should be made manifest in him, as is said in a similar case, John 9:3. 2ndly. Likewise to show the difference between heaven and earth. For here he will have all things subject to various vicissitudes, and accustom his people to the alternate changes of a rough winter and an agreeable spring; because in heaven they are to exult in a constant uninterrupted joy in his friendship and love, Rev. 7:17. 3rdly. That he may the more endear unto them the sweetness of his grace, which, when tasted at intervals, especially after a draught of a cup of bitterness, must be most delicious to the pious soul. 4thly. That he may give a demonstration of the exceeding greatness of his power and goodness, when he preserves the soul in its spiritual life, though oppressed with so many sorrows, restores him to his former vigour, makes him triumph over Satan, and gives it the more abundant comfort, the more distant it was from all the sense of his favour. This is “to show wonders to the dead,” Psa. 88:10; and to revive the wounded spirit, which Solomon, Prov. 18:14, declares exceeds any created power.
XXIII. The reasons with respect to the friends of God are two-fold; for either they regard the time past, or the time future. As to the time past, God usually restrains the beams of his favour, 1st, When his friends have been guilty of some grievous sin; for in that case his holiness is concerned, that they feel the rod of his paternal displeasure, and not be suffered then to have familiarity with him, Psa. 51:9, 11, 12. “If they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction, then he showeth them their work,” Job 36:8, 9; and really, as it were, calls out to them: “Know therefore and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God,” Jer. 2:19. “But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy,” Is. 63:10. 2ndly, When, abusing the goodness of God, they worship his majesty with less reverence, and begin to flag in the exercise of devotion. 3rdly, When carnal confidence and vain glorying have seized upon them. Psa. 30:6, 7. “And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved—thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.” 4thly, When the offer of divine grace is unworthily entertained through a kind of indolence and drowsiness, Cant. 5:3–5.
XXIV. The following reasons refer to the time to come, 1st, That God may try and exercise their faith, 1 Pet. 1:6, 7; which ought to be in exercise, even when nothing is to be seen; and their love, by which they are bound to love God for himself, though they are not sensible, that they themselves are loved; and the sincerity of their worship, which is not to proceed from a mere relish of the reward, but from an acknowledgment of the divine dignity or authority; and the constancy of their religion, by which they must keep close to God, even when he appears as a stranger to them. 2dly, That he may stir them up to the practice of prayer, in which Heman was fervent at such a time, Psa. 88:1, “O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night, before thee;” see also ver. 9 and 13. 3dly, That he may instruct and bring his people to true wisdom; for this distress gives excellent understanding: “tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience,” Rom. 5:3, 4. Heman was early introduced into this school, and such hard exercises were put upon him, that he was almost distracted; yet at length he made so great a proficiency, as to be reckoned among the wisest in his day, 1 Kings 4:31. 4thly, That they may, for the future, more carefully preserve the divine favour, when they have once recovered it. When the spouse at last found her beloved, who had withdrawn himself, “she held him,” kept him fast, “and would not let him go, until she had brought him into her mother’s house, into the chamber of her that conceived her,” Cant. 3:4.
XXV. But what course is the soul now to take, in order to renew the interrupted friendship of God? For we are not to think that God will be angry with his people for ever, “For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made,” says the Lord, Isa. 57:16; see Isa. 54:8. And, 1st, We are, in order to this, carefully to inquire into the cause of this estrangement, that it may be removed; for generally we have provoked God to deal thus with us, either by some sin, or by our carelessness. Lament. 3:40: “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.” And should it be, that a person cannot find out the cause of that estrangement (which is rarely the case with the serious and careful inquirer), he is then to consult the word of God: and by repeated prayer say, “Do not condemn me; show me wherefore thou contendest with me,” Job 10:2. 2dly, He is to renew his faith and repentance; promise God, as by a solemn oath, that he will, for the future, improve his grace to better purpose, and keep it with greater care, if he may again enjoy it. Nay, he is to protest, and that sincerely, that he will serve God, because God is worthy to be served, and because it is his glory to serve him, though he should never again, which God forbid, taste the sweetness of divine favour. Nothing can be done by man more acceptable to God. 3dly, He is to be instant in continual prayer, pleading, with the greatest earnestness possible, that he may not be cast away from his presence, but that God would have mercy upon him, according to his loving-kindness, and restore again the joy of his salvation, Psa. 51:1, 11, 12. The Holy Spirit himself has dictated forms of prayer, Psa. 88, 102. 4thly, He is patiently to wait for the hour in which God may be pleased to receive him into favour, not omitting his duty to God in the meantime. Lam. 3:26: “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”
XXVI. To him who acts in this manner will come, at length will come, the blessed day, when God will change the bitter water of tears into the most delightful wine of consolation; receive and entertain his friend with the greater familiarity, the longer and the more mournfully he had been deprived of the delightful sense of his love, and abundantly repay all with interest. Believers have generally experienced this; whose triumphant songs we remember to have read and heard, no less than their mournful complaints. And it scarce ever happens otherwise: but should there be no appearance of being restored on earth to the sweet sense of divine love, all however is reserved to be fully bestowed upon them in heaven. The abundance of which will render the former dry and parched state extremely sweet and delightful, beyond what can be either expressed or conceived.
XXVII. From what has been said, it is evident, this spiritual peace differs very much from carnal security. For, 1st, The latter arises from a man’s mere ignorance of his state, into which he never made any serious inquiry, or, in forming a judgment about it, he deceived himself by false reasoning. But the former rests upon a sure foundation, and is preceded by sorrow for sin, a sense of misery, a hunger and thirst after grace, diligent self-examination, and a sense of his union with Christ. 2dly, The latter makes a man well pleased with, and to have an inward joy on account of, that imaginary good, though in other respects he neglects God; whereas the former ravishes the soul with admiration of the divine goodness, and makes him confess himself unworthy of so great an honour and favour. 3dly, By the latter men are swallowed up in pleasure, are dull and heavy in that which is good, and unhappily give themselves up to an irregular life, thinking “they shall have peace, though they walk in the imagination of their heart,” Deut. 29:19. But the former keeps the heart in safety, Phil. 4:7, that they may be in the fear of God continually; and this is what neither can be obtained, nor preserved, without a strict exercise of godliness. 4thly, Though the latter falsely imagines that it is the object of God’s love, yet it is destitute of all true love to God. But the former consists in mutual friendship. The same Abraham who, James. 2:23, is called the friend, is, Isa. 41:8, called אהבי, the lover, of God.
XXVIII. As spiritual peace is the consequence of justification, in was a blessing of the Old, as well as it is of the New Testament, as we shall show in its proper place; and consequently the ancient fathers were also partakers of it, who, by an unfeigned faith, believed that they were reconciled to God, on account of the surety, the Messiah; that the enmity caused by sin was removed: they had a most delightful and experimental sense of this, and often gloried in the Lord. We, indeed, cannot deny that peace was eminently promised to the New Testament church, Psa. 72:3; Isa. 9:5, 6; Hag. 2:10; Zech. 9:10. But we are not to understand this of peace and friendship with God absolutely, which is a benefit of the covenant of grace, and not of the New Testament alone: but, 1st, Of the more abundant sense of the divine favour, with respect to believers in general. 2dly, Of the agreement between the believing Israelites with the Gentiles, “having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” Eph. 2:15. 3rdly, Of the peace of God granted likewise to the Gentiles. This is expressly mentioned, Zech. 9:10.