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Secondly, Ascertain what description of persons are concerned thus to lament after the Lord.
Thirdly, Lay before you some helps or directions to carry on this work of serious lamentation.
Fourthly, Offer some cordials to encourage our hearts till the Lord return to us.
MOTIVES AND REASONS WHICH MAY CAUSE LA
MENTATION AFTER THE LORD.
I. It is indeed a very sad consideration that this people of Israel were twenty years before they began to feel their situation, or come to themselves; and therefore in the enumeration of motives to the discharge of duty, I may observe,
1. That a professing people may lie long under dreadful spiritual judgments, without a sensible perception of them: it was so with the people here; it is well if it be not so with us. And this senseless frame is a greater evil than any other judgment.
But you may ask, how comes it to pass that men may be so long senseless, and not lament after the Lord all this while ? Answ. (1.) From the nature of sin.
Sin is of a hardening, stupifying, brutifying nature; when men fall into sin, their hearts are hardened by it, Heb. iii. 13. Sin is of a cold congealing nature, it freezeth the soul, rocketh conscience asleep; and like the fish torpedo, that diffuseth its benumbing poison through the hand and arm, and creeping at last to the heart, kills a man; so doth sin. It is not to tell how David's
sin rocked him asleep, and led him on to other sins, till it endangered his soul's sleeping the sleep of death.
(2.) From the worldly enjoyments men have in room of ordinances. As the captives in Babylon being well settled amidst conveniencies and accommodations, forget God's appointments, and Jerusalem comes not into their minds, while their enjoyments afford contentment. And though some returned, they can sleep quietly in their ceiled houses, while the house of God lies waste, Hag. i. 4. God's ark is forgotten when men's private coffers are full. Personal comforts thrust out spiritual, as the sun's beams eat out the kitchen fire.
(3.) From the want of quickening means in the absence of ordinances. When the prophets are dead naturally or civilly, their monitors to duty are taken away, Psal. lxxiv. 9. “We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet, neither is there any among us that knoweth how long.” When men want a Haggai or Zechariah, they lie still asleep, for want of awakening excitements. It is Samuel that promotes this lamenting after the Lord.
(4.) From the withdrawings of God's grace, Ps. lxxx. 18, “Quicken us, and we will call on thy name.” As long as God turns his back on us, we shall be so far from kindly lamenting after him, that we shall turn and go back from him. “My soul followeth hard after thee,” Psal, lxiii. 8. How comes that to pass ? why, “Thy right hand upholdeth me.” It is God that gives a repenting heart, a lamenting soul. Oh, what are we if God leave us to ourselves! Let us study these causes of senselessness, and let our souls be ashamed. Tremble at these causes and their effects; bewail sin; settle not in worldly enjoyments; beg quickening means, and above all, divine grace for our assistance in lamenting after the Lord.
2. That God's professing people may and must stir up themselves to lament after the Lord. All men have rational faculties, gracious souls have spiritual principles, sloth kills both: self-excitation is possible, and a furtherance to this lamentation after God. Men as men have consciences, and conscience is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly,* by self-reflection, discovering the want of God and goodness, checking for evil, putting on to what is good; if you follow it not as far as it leads you, you wrong it, rebel against its master, and deprive yourselves of further assistance; contradict this preacher in thy bosom at thy peril. Means intervene betwixt a man's can, and his cannot; if thou canst not move a spiritual step, thou must move a natural step after the Lord; if thou canst not create a new heart, yet thou canst and must endeavour to have a new heart and a new spirit, Ezek. xviii. 31. If thou be not able to do God's work, thou must be doing thy own work: bemoan thyself, tell him what an unruly bullock thou art, and desire him to turn thee, and then thou shalt be turned; stir up thyself to take hold on God; stir up the gift of God in thee. † Charge thyself as David, “My soul, wait thou only upon God.” Psal. lxii. 5.
“Awake thou that sleepest, arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light,” Eph. v. 14. “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion! put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem ! shake thyself from the dust; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion!” Isa. lii. 1, 2. Now at last God expects you should labour to work your hearts to a discovery of your misery, the necessity you have of God, of his presence and ordinances. You may rouse yourselves to this work, you
Prov. xx. 27. + Jer. xxxi. 18. Isa. Ixiv. 7. 2 Tim. i. 6.
must, and if you do, God will help; if not, your destruction will be of yourselves.
3. This lamenting after the Lord and his ark hath been the practice, and is the true character of God's children. Eli's heart trembled for the ark of God. Phinehas's wife thought it not worth while to live when the ark was gone, 1 Sam. iv. 13, 21. The language of the prophet Isaiah is, “I will wait on the Lord that hideth his face, from the house of Jacob, and will look for him," Isa. viii. 17. This was when it was said, “bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples,” v. 16. If you would seek and find God, seek not to familiar spirits, “but to the law, and to the testimony, v. 19, 20. For, should not a people seek unto their God ? Sirs, shew what you are, and act as you seem. If you be God's children, run weeping after your father; cry after him, and say, “be not a terror to me,” Jer. xvii. 17. Yea, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night ? Lord, art not thou in the midst of us? We are called by thy name, leave us not, Jer. xiv. 8, 9. “Be not thou far from me, O Lord, for trouble is near, for there is none to help,” Psal. xxii. 11, 19. Oh! where is that ancient serious spirit of lamenting after the Lord ? Where are those genuine workings of a child-like disposition after such a father? What is become of that sighing frame of heart, that spirit of adoption, with which God's children of old were endued ?
It will be well if new notions do not drive out that old spirit of lamentation. Shew that you are saints by this, as those few declared themselves Saul's faithful soldiers whose hearts God had touched, following him trembling, or trembling after him, 1 Sam. x. 26. and xiii. 7. So Hos. xi. v. 10. “ They shall
walk after the Lord; he shall roar like a lion, when he shall roar, then the children shall tremble from the west.” Observe it, God's roaring in terrible threatenings or executions, drives not God's children from him, but to him, only they come trembling, appealing from God to God, from an avenging justice offended, to tender mercies through the merits of Jesus. Learn this mystery and christian privilege.
4. This is no controverted point, but an acknowledged duty on all hands, to which I am persuading; who dare contradict it? Yea, who dare dispute it? What exceptions can any bring against this, of lamenting after the Lord ? I challenge any caviller to produce any show of reason against either branch of it; either as to the ordinances of God, or God in his ordinances. I think all parties are agreed in the theory. O that all were also agreed in the practice of this duty! whatever disputes men make about other rules or canons of practice, methinks there should be none about this. us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded, and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you; nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let ús mind the same thing,” Phil. iii. 15, 16. Whence I discern,
(1.) That it is a vain, preposterous thing for persons to spend time in disputing about abstruse and obscure points, while they neglect momentous and evident duties.
(2.) The only way to have unity in less material truths or duties, is a conscientious practice of what is necessary and indubitable. I may truly say, that nothing is more likely to make us cordial friends, than the practice of the duty in my text; when Judah and Israel fall a weeping and seeking the Lord then