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just ideas of his nature, we must take care that we expect nothing from him which his word has not warranted us to believe he will do.
If a man depends upon him for that which he has not promised, such a confidence is likely to end in disappointment, and so to produce mistrust and infidelity, instead of cherishing faith, or promoting a pious frame of mind. Many there are who trust in God to deliver them from their temporal distresses; from pain, from sickness, or from death; who have no warrant from Scripture for any such expectations. And these persons, when disappointed, are ready to reflect on the blessed Promiser as unfaithful to his word; to feel towards him as if he deluded his suffering creatures; and, having invited them to rely on him for relief, only raised their hopes in order to aggravate their sorrows.
But how far then, it may be asked, and for what purposes, may we trust in God?
Here the first thing to be considered is, whether we have a right to trust in him at all; in other words, whether we are interested in the covenant of grace which he has made with those who believe in Christ Jesus.
Confidence in another is founded either upon his general character or upon some express promise which he has given. Now we who are sinners can have no access to God, and can expect no favour from him, except on the terms of that covenant of peace which he has made with us in his Son our Saviour. Upon that covenant, therefore, we must repose our trust; keeping it always in mind, that as without this we could have no claim to his blessings at all, so our claim to them depends on our possessing the characters to which they are promised in Scripture. Of these promises, some are general; belonging to every member of the visible church; indeed, to all mankind, who will hear, receive, and apply for them: such as, that "they who ask shall have; that they who seek shall find; and that to them who knock it shall be opened." "Return unto
me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord." "Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth."-Such promises as these are made without restriction. Upon them any man may safely rely; that is, he may be assured that if he desires, so as heartily to solicit them, his request shall be granted, and the blessing bestowed. He who cometh, that is, whosoever cometh to Christ, shall in no wise be cast out.But the greater number are of a less extensive kind of promises, made only to believers: to those who receive the truth in the love of it, and have experienced its power and virtue in the soul. Thus it is promised, that, "the Lord will be a sun and a shield," that "there shall be no want to them that fear him," and that "he will make all things work together for their good." There is encouragement for men to cast their burdens upon the Lord, with full assurance of support. There is hope given of direction in difficulties, of final victory over sin, and release from sorrow; of peace in death, and eternal blessedness beyond it. As it respects this class, we have, of course, no claim, and can indulge no reasonable expectation, till we have ground (such as the Scripture itself will allow) to judge ourselves true disciples of the Redeemer, possessing the seal and witness of his Spirit, and interested in all the fulness of the blessings of the Gospel of peace.-Nay, many promises, have a still further restriction; and are addressed, not to believers in general, but to such only as excel in some specific grace, or are exemplary in some duty of the Christian life; as to the meek, to the faithful, to the merciful, to the liberal. And for want of attending to this, good men themselves may be disappointed, nay even be deeply discouraged, because promises are not made good to them which, in reality, were given to a disposition, or a course of conduct, which is not yet theirs. The great point, however, is to be true disciples of Christ. What, then, is implied in this;
It is implied, in the first place, that we have come to him as guilty sinners, to be cleansed by his blood from all the guilt and defilement of sin; that we are looking to him alone for salvation; placing no confidence in our duties or our merits, but relying solely upon the Son of God as our Saviour and our Advocate with his Father in heaven.
In the next place, it is supposed that we are living with a steady eye to the precepts and ordinances of Christ, maintaining a constant intercourse and communion with him in prayer; treasuring up his word in our hearts; setting his example before us as our pattern; and endeavouring that our whole life may be a life of faith in him. Unless this be the case, we are evidently not his true disciples; we have "neither part nor lot" in him; and, therefore, cannot be entitled to the blessings which belong to his people.
But whoever does thus possess a sincere faith in Christ, and is uprightly endeavouring to serve him, has a title to trust God, according to the terms of his covenant, for all to which he stands pledged in behalf of true believers: and it is the indispensable duty of such persons to place this warranted trust and confidence in him; as much so as to beware of expectations which have no warrant. It is never promised in the Gospel, for instance, that the disciples of Christ should be exempt from sufferings. They must not, therefore, trust in God for this. Indeed, it is rather intimated that they shall have a large share of them. Christ and all his apostles were great and constant sufferers while they abode in this evil world: and the disciples must tread in their steps-like them be made perfect by sufferings. Such sufferings are part of the dispensation of grace, and to be considered (on account of their salutary influence) as proofs of the parental care and affection of the Most High: "for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?" But they may confidently trust that in all their sufferings they shall be supported; that their trials will not be greater than
they are able to bear; and that all which are appointed for them shall issue in their good, that is, in their spiritual good; which ought to be esteemed not only the first, but the only real good. They may trust confidently that their Saviour will be present with them, and sanctify all to them; that the trial of their faith, though it be tried by fire, shall be found unto praise, and honour, and glory at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. They may hope, without danger of disappointment, that, as the outward man decayeth, the inward man will flourish more and more; and that, as they are more destitute of earthly consolations, they will enjoy more of those which are heavenly.
Such a confidence in God they may justly entertain with respect to all present difficulties and trials. Nor do I deny that a reasonable hope may be indulged, though not perhaps so firm an assurance, of something more than this: for the goodness of God is so great, and he is so rich in mercy and bountiful in blessing, that there are many things which we may humbly expect from him, even beyond what he has expressly promised. He is accustomed to do exceeding and abundantly for his people, above all that they can ask or think. His faithful servants may therefore hope (though not with such confidence as for a promised blessing-they may hope, however,) that he will grant them many tokens of his care and love; as that he will spare some beloved object at their request; will bestow on them some needful comfort, or deliver them from some irksome trial. They may pray for these things: and when they consider the character of their God, to whose goodness no limits can be assigned, they may cherish a reasonable expectation that their prayers will not be in vain. What a scope and range does this inexhaustible bounty, this paternal tenderness, afford for the humble unpresuming hope of a believer! Yes: let us always approach God as the most bountiful of beings: let us always look up to him as the most tender of parents; and
be assured that "no good thing will be withheld from them that fear him."
Such, confidence, then, and such reasonable hope in God may be entertained by every real Christian, with respect to temporal things; but let it be ever remembered, that all temporal blessings whatsoever are, on the very first principles of our religion, to hold only a very subordinate place in our esteem. It is the object of Christ to wean his people from all which is transitory and earthly, in order that their affections may be fixed upon enjoyments which are pure, substantial, and eternal. The promise of all temporal blessings, therefore, is limited, is conditional, is general; but the promises of spiritual blessings-the best blessings in the estimation of Christ, the only blessings which can truly be considered as important-these are offered much more freely, much more fully. We are allowed to hope in God for many temporal mercies; but we are encouraged, we are expected, we are commanded to look, not only with hope, but with certain expectation, for all spiritual blessings which we may need. On him, therefore, we may rely confidently, in the use of the appointed means, to grant us grace that we may overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil; grace that we may withstand all temptations; grace to glorify and serve our Redeemer, by a life and conduct becoming our Christian profession; grace to die in faith and Christian hope, and to enjoy a blissful immortality. For these we may trust God confidently: and if we can trust him here, there is little of any other kind the loss of which needs to give us much disturbance.
The Christian, then, who stays his soul upon God, is one who entertains just and noble conceptions of the nature and character of the Being on whom he depends. He knows that he is a just and holy Being; that he requires all his creatures to be holy; and that he sent his Son into the world to make expiation for sin, and "to purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." He knows himself also to be a miserable sin