“salvation." The believer thus healed and refreshed, by meditation on the death of Christ, and other religious exercises, rests not in one victory, but presses forward, prepared for new conflicts : yet the enemy, once decidedly put to flight, seldom repeats the same assaults, at least for some time; because he will generally find the victor upon his guard on that side, though he may be surprised in some other way.

66.... The valley... The valley of the Shadow or DEATH seems intended to represent a variation of inward distress, conflict, and alarm, which arise from prevailing darkness and insensibility of mind, rendering a man reluctant to religious duties, and dull in the performance of them; which makes way for manifold apprehensions and temptations. The words, quoted from the prophet, describe the waste howling wilderness through which ISRAEL journeyed to CANAAN;which typified the believer's pilgrimage through this world to heaven. From this we may infer, that the author meant in general, that such dreary seasons may be expected; as very few believers wholly escape them: but we must not suppose, that he intended to convey an idea, that all experience these trials in the same order or degree as CHRISTIAN did.-While men rest in forms and notions, they generally expect nothing in religious ordinances but to finish a task, and to enjoy the satisfaction of having, donę their supposed duty: but the spiritual worshipper, at some times, finds his soul filled with clear light and holy affection; " it is good for him to draw nigh to God;" and " his soul is “ satisfied as with marrow and fatness, while he praises $' his God with joyful lips:" at other times, dulness and heaviness oppress him; he feels little exercise of faith, hope, desire, reverence, love, or gratitude; he seems to address an unknown or absent God, and rather to mock than to wor. ship him; divine things appear obscure and almost unreal; and every returning season of devotion, or reiterated effort to lift up his heart to God, ends in disappointment; so that

religion becomes his burden instead of his delight. Evils before unnoticed are now perceived to mingle with his services; for his self-knowledge is advanced: his remedy seems to increase his disease: he suspects that all his former joy was a delusion, and is ready to conclude, that “ God hath “ forgotten to be gracious, and hath shut up his loving “ kindness in displeasure.” These experiences, sufficiently painful in themselves, are often rendered more distressing, by erroneous expectations of uninterrupted comfort, or by reading books, or hearkening to instructions, which state things unscripturally; representing comfort as the evidence of acceptance, assurance as the essence of faith, impressions or visions as the witness of the Spirit; or perfection as attainable in this life, nay actually attained by all the regenerate ;-as if this were the church triumphant, and not the church militant. The state of the body also, as disordered by nervous or hypochondriacal affections, gives energy to the distressing inferences which men often draw from their dark frame of mind: and indeed indisposition may often operate as a direct cause of it; though the influences of the Holy Spirit will overcome this, and all other impediments to comfort, when " he sheds abroad the love of God in the heart.”_Evil spirits never fail, when permitted, to take advantage of a disordered state, whether of body or mind, to mislead, entangle, perplex, or defile the soul. Persons of a melancholic temperature, when not aware of the particular causes whence their gloom originates, are apt to ascribe it wholly to desertion, which exceedingly enhances their distress: and, as our author had been greatly harassed in this way, he has given us a larger proportion of this shade than is generally met with by consistent believers, or than the scriptures give us reason to expect: and probably he meant to state the outlines of his own experience in the pilgrimage of CHRISTIAN.

..22. Two men... These men were spies, not pilgrims; they related what they had observed at a distance, but had never experienced. They represent those who have been

conversant with godly people; and bring an evil report on • the good land,' to prejudice the minds of numbers against the right ways of the Lord. Such men pretend to have made trial of religion, and found it to be a comfortless and dreary pursuit; they give a caricatured description of the sighs, groans, terrors, and distresses of pious persons, and of all the dreadful things to be seen and heard among them: they avail themselves of every unguarded or hyperbolical expression, which escapes a tempted believer; of the en. thusiastic representations which some people give of their experience; and even of the figurative language, which is often employed in speaking of inward conflicts under images taken from external things. Thus they endeavour to excuse their own apostacy, and to expose to contempt the cause which they have deserted. Nothing they can say, however, concerning the disorder or confusion to which religion may sometimes give occasion, can induce the believer to conclude that he has mistaken his way, or that it would be adviseable for him to turn back, or deviate into any by-path: though they will excite him to vigilance and circumspection.--As these spies do so much mischief by their misrepresentations, we should be careful to give them as little occasion as we possibly can.

67..27. Deep ditch... The fatal presumption, into which men are soothed, through ignorance and various kinds of false doctrine, so that they conclude themselves safe without any warrant from scripture, is intended by the deep ditch,' into which “ the blind lead the blind and perish with them."

- This is often done by men who reciprocally criminate and despise each other.-- The dangerous quag,' on the other side of the narrow way, represents the opposite extreme, despair of God's mercy; and the mire of it agrees with that of the slough of DESPOND.-In these opposite ways multitudes continually perish; some concluding that there is no fear, others that there is no hope. But the danger to which a real believer is exposed, of verging towards one of these

extremes in times of inward darkness and disconsolation, is especially implied. They, who have had much opportunity of conversing with professors of the gospel, have met with many persons who once were zealous and comfortable, but their religious affections have declined; their duties are comparatively scanty, formal, and joyless; their walk unsteady, and their hearts dark, cold, and barren: they call themselves backsliders, and complain of desertion; yet they have no heart to use proper means of revival, but love to be soothed in their present condition; and quiet themselves by presuming that they are true believers, and abusing the doctrine of final perseverance. Many of this cast are wholly deceived; others partially, and will be recovered by severe but salutary rebukes and chastenings. Even the consistent well-instructed christian, when greatly discouraged, may be powerfully tempted to seek peace of mind, by arguing with himself on the safety of his state, or trying to be satisfied without his former spiritual affections, and holy consolations: and SATAN will find prompters to suggest to him, that this is the case of all experienced believers, and that fervency of love belongs only to young converts, who are strangers to their own hearts. This is the more plausible, because the increase of sound judgement and abiding spiritual affections abates that earnestness, (often indiscreet and disproportioned) which sprang from mere selfish principles : and, when religious profession is cheap and common, many retain it, who have scarce any appearance of spirituality, and who infect others with their contagious converse and example. But, while the conscientious believer, amidst his deepest discou. ragements, dreads and shuns this presumption, he is liable to sink into despondency; and may be led to condemn all his past experience as unreal; to rank himself among stonyground hearers; to conclude that it is useless for him to pray or seek any more; and to lie down in enfeebling dejection. Again, perceiving this danger, he finds it very difficult, in the present dark state of his soul, to avoid it, without seeming

to abuse the free grace of the gospel. This experience must create much distress, perplexity, and confusion; and make way for many dark and terrifying temptations : so that, though a man be not harassed with doubts about the truth of the scriptures, he will be unable to make much use of them for his direction and comfort; and earnest, instant prayer must be his only resource.-Cases sometimes occur, in which, through a concurrence of circumstances, this alarming and perplexing experience continues and increases for some time: but the true christian will be, as it were, constrained to press forward, and by faith will at length put his enemies to flight. Some have thought, that the general notions of apparitions may be alluded to, as giving the tempter an occasion of increasing the terror of such persons as are in that respect credulous and timorous.

69..16. One thing... The case here intended is not uncommon among conscientious persons under urgent temptations. Imaginations are suddenly excited in their minds, with which their previous thoughts had no connection, even as if words were spoken to them: these often imply hard censures of GOD, his service, or decrees, which they abhor as direct blasphemy; or harass them with other hateful ideas: yet, instead of considering, that such suggestions distress them, in exact proportion as they are opposite to the prevailing disposition of their hearts, and that their dread, and hatred of them are evidences of love to God,--they consider them as unpardonably criminal, inconsistent with a state of grace, and a mark of final reprobation. Whereas, had such things coincided with the state of their minds, they would have been defiling but not distressing; and instead of rejecting them at once with decided abhorrence, they would have given them entertainment, and employed their minds about them, as much as they dared: " for the carnal mind is enmity against

God," and can only be deterred from blasphemy, on many occasions, by the dread of his vengeance. Our author had been so much baffled by this stratagem of the tempter, that it

« ForrigeFortsett »