by John Willison
SERMON V. A
SERMON AFTER THE COMMUNION. THE FAINTING BELIEVER
STRENGTHENED FOR HIS WORK.
"He giveth power to the faint;
and to them that have no might, he increaseth
strength" Isa. xl. 29.
THE prophet having
concluded the preceding chapter with a prophecy of the
captivity of the Jews into Babylon, though it was many years
before it came; he in this and the succeeding chapter,
furnishes the church and people of God with a great many
precious promises for their support and comfort, during that
long captivity; which surely would be of great use to them in
that cloudy and dark day.
In the latter end of this
chapter, the prophet is reproving the people of God, who are
now supposed to be captives at Babylon, for their unbelief and
despondency under their affliction, in saying or thinking God
had either cast them off; or could not help them, verse 27. For
remedying whereof, he puts them in mind of God's power and
all-sufficiency to help in the greatest straits, verse 28. And
in the text and following verses, he assures them of God's
compassion, and readiness to help them under all their sinking
discouragements, "He giveth power to the faint," &c.
More particularly in the text, we
may notice these things: 1. The sad case of many of God's
people in captivity, "They were faint and without might," i.e.
They were under pressures and burdens both outward and inward,
that were ready to crush them, and make them faint away; they
were called to several pieces both of service arid suffering;
for which they had no strength nor might of themselves. 2. We
have their mercy and privilege under this sad case ; power and
strength; i.e. spiritual strength mainly, which is graciously
promised them for their encouragement, under all their
faintings and trials. 3. The author of this privilege, "The
everlasting God, the Lord Jehovah, with whom is everlasting
strength, who fainteth not, neither is weary. 4. The way how
this mercy is conveyed; it is in a way of free gift, without
any worth or merit on our part; he giveth it, and he increaseth
it; he giveth strength where it is not, and he increaseth it
where it is already given in any measure.
Doctrine, "That as the Lord's
people while here are liable to many fainting discouragements,
under which they cannot support themselves, so the Lord is
pleased to give them suitable strength for all their
exigencies." This is also confirmed from that gracious promise,
recorded in the following chapter, Isa. xli. 10, "Fear thou
not, for I am with thee: be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I
will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold
thee with the right hand of my righteousness." And the psalmist
confirms this truth by his own comfortable experience, Psal.
cxxxviii. 3, "In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and
strengthenedst me with strength to my soul."
The method I choose for prosecuting this doctrine, shall
- I. To inquire into those fainting discouragements, which
believers labour under while here.
- II. Why 'the Lord doth let them meet with such trials.
- III. How it is that the Lord doth strengthen his weak and
- IV. What are the great ends and uses for which the Lord gives
such strength to his people.
- V. Give some reasons to prove, that the Lord will certainly
give them this strength.
- VI. Make improvement.
I. As to the
first, viz. To instance some of those fainting discouragements
that believers labour under while here, and which in a special
manner, call for divine support. And these are of two sorts;
viz. either of a temporal or a spiritual nature.
1. Sometimes they meet with
external afflicting providences, which are very
As when they are troubled with
poverty and want, so that they know not how to subsist
themselves and their families; this is a great trial, and
requires spiritual strength from God to help them to carry
right under it. When they are destitute of earthly
friends, and have none to comfort or sympathise with them in
trouble; this is also a heavy trial that needs strength from
God When they are loaded with reproaches and
misrepresentations, and that not only from enemies, but even
from friends; this hath been very sinking to the best of God's
people. When they are vexed with the death and loss of
near and dear relations, pleasant children, and helpful
friends; this case has been afflicting to many. When
they are under bodily sickness or racking pains, so that they
"have no rest in their bones, wearisome nights are appointed
for them, and they are full of tossings till the dawning of the
day." When they have a near view of meeting with death,
that king of terrors, and terror of kings. When they are
under the oppressions and persecution of cruel enemies. These
are trials that the dearest of God's children are exposed to,
and under which they would be ready to faint, if they were not
strengthened from above. And especially those outward pressures
are very sinking and discouraging to them; especially when they
think it is their sin that has brought them into these sad
circumstances, or when their trials are of a long continuance,
and it may be something in them appears to be singular, as it
was in the case of the Jews in Babylon. Then it is that God's
people are ready to faint and succumb, and should look to God
to step in with suitable supplies of strength.
2. Sometimes God's people are
troubled with fainting discouragements of a spiritual
As when they find indwelling
corruption, and heart-plagues strong and prevailing: this case
was very affecting and afflicting to David, Psal. lxv. 3, and
to Paul, Rom. vii. 24, and to the church, when they cried out,
Isa. lxiv. 6, "Our iniquities like the wind have taken us
away:" q. d. The tide is so strong, we have no might to
stem it. -When the "enemy is exalted over them," and Satan doth
harrass them with blasphemous injections, horrid atheistical
thoughts, and violent temptations; he sometimes tempts God's
children to the greatest of sins, as he tempted Job to curse
God: how is the soul ready to faint at such a time, if it get
not strength from God and crieth out, "How long shall mine
enemy be exalted over me? It is like a sword in my bones, when
the enemy reproacheth me, and saith daily to me, Where is thy
God? O my Rock, why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?"
3. When God hides his face, and
they cannot get access to him in duty; so as they think, they
are given up and left to struggle with Satan and corruption in
their own strength. That is a melancholy case to the soul,
under which it would faint, without secret support from
4. When they find their hearts
wholly out of frame for any spiritual duty; by reason of much
backwardness to it, wearying of it, and corruption working in
them, which carries them away from God in time of duty: such as
atheism, unbelief; worldly-mindedness, heart-hardness, &c.
Now the soul would faint, and wholly backslide from God, if he
did not secretly uphold it.
5. When the soul is brought back
again, as it were, to the foot of mount Sinai, and made to hear
the thunderings thereof; and the curses of a broken law
renewed: the law gets a new commission to take the man into
custody, and put his feet into the stocks: so that the old
wounds are opened, and former guilt is revived, and God seems
to behave to him like a stranger or an enemy. Thus he did to
Heman, Psal. lxxxviii. Now, at such a time the soul is ready to
faint, and say, "Is his mercy clean gone for ever! Will he be
favourable no more? Hath he forgotten to be gracious? Hath he
in his anger shut up his tender mercies? But especially if
sickness, or the messenger of death, come and knock at the
man's door, while in such a case, O, how is he distressed with
the melancholy apprehensions of' death and judgment! "Death,"
thinks he, "is near, and I am most unready for it; judgment is
approaching, my accounts are unclear, and the Judge's face all
covered with frowns." Now the soul indeed would faint if God in
Christ did not support it.
6. As believers have many
fainting discouragements, upon the account of their own case,
so also upon a public account, in respect of the church, and
land wherein they live: As when they see a spirit of slumber
and deep sleep fallen upon professors, so that they are not
moved with the judgments of God, when denounced both by his
word and providence; yea, though "the fire be kindled, and
burning round about them, yet they lay it not to heart."
When they see religion under a great and visible decay among
all ranks, many turning daily more careless and indifferent
about duty, more slack about family-worship and secret prayer,
and daily more carnal and worldly in their conversation. When
they see Christian love decay, divisions and animosities
increase, malice, envy, and hatred of one another prevail, and
people growing more selfish, minding their own things, and
careless about the things of Jesus Christ. When they see
God's Spirit in a sad measure withdrawn from the assemblies of
his people; ordinances become as a sealed book, dry breasts,
and a miscarrying womb, so that Ichabod may be written on them,
or "God is departed;" when they see communions lifeless, and
not what they wont to be. Christ is absent and yet few sensible
of the judgment, or laying it to heart, so as to lament after
the Lord. They see many busy to sin him away, but few
endeavouring to pray him back again. The sincere seekers of God
are often like to faint under this discouragement.When
they see many professors making soul-slips, yea, falling into
scandalous sins, to the reproach of religion, and hardening of
the wicked; and but few like to be found sincere in their
profession. When they see those that are truly godly,
tender and conscientious in their walk, public-spirited and
concerned for the interest of Christ, removing and going off
the stage: this is a very melancholy and sinking discouragement
to the few that are left behind, under which they need support
from God: hence it was that the psalmist cries so earnestly,
Psal. xii. 1, "Help, Lord, for the godly man that ceaseth: for
the faithful fall from among the children of men"
II. The second
thing proposed was, to inquire why the Lord lets his people be
troubled with such fainting discouragements.
1. To correct them for their
former faults and miscarriages; hence we read, Jer. iv. 18,
when the Lord had threatened several sad things against his
people, he saith, "thy ways and thy doings have procured these
things to thee." God will have his people to smart for sin; not
to make any satisfaction for sin, but to render sin bitter unto
2. To humble and make them low,
in the midst of their great attainments and signal enjoyments:
believers are still apt to be puffed up with these, if they
were not kept under by humbling dispensations. Hence, even Paul
himself had a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him, "lest he
should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of
revelations," 2 Cor. xii. 8.
3. To let them know the
difference betwixt earth and heaven, a militant and triumphant
state. When things go well with us in, the world, we are apt to
say, with Peter on the mount, "It is good for us to be here."
But when these go ill, God's people turn their tongue, and say
with the psalmist, Psal. lxxiii. 27, "It is good for me to draw
nigh to God." When we live at ease, we are ready to think
ourselves at home: but when trouble comes, we begin to say,
"Arise, let us depart, this is not our rest." It is not easy to
wean us from the comforts of this life: and therefore God many
times doth rub gall and wormwood on the breasts of this present
world, to imbitter its comforts, and take our hearts off
4. To awaken the spirit of
prayer, and make them more importunate in their addresses to
the throne of grace, Psal. cxxx. 1. Christ suffered the storm
to continue, till the ship was almost overwhelmed, that the
disciples might come and awaken him with their cries to help
them, Matt. viii. 25.
5. That his people may get new
proofs of his love and tender care in strengthening such weak
reeds as they are, to endure such storms; and in his: stepping
in so seasonably for their relief and support, ready to faint
and succumb. God's people have much to speak on this account,
to the praise of his free grace, Psal. xciv. 18, "When I said,
My foot slippeth, thy mercy, O Lord, held me up."
6. To cause his people long for
heaven, and mend their peace in the way to it, Phil. i. 23.
There is a great difference betwixt our prayers in health and
in sickness; our repentings in prosperity and adversity, Isa
xxvi. 16; Hos. v.15. He that in prosperity prayed with a cold
heart and dry eyes, can in affliction cry aloud and mingle his
prayers with tears. Though heaven was much out of sight and out
of mind before, and he had scarce a thought of flitting; yet
now when distress comes, he begins to sigh with David, Psal.
lv. 6, "O that I had wings like a dove; for then would I flee
away, and be at rest I would hasten my escape from the windy
III. The next
thing is to inquire how it is that the Lord doth strengthen his
weak and fainting people. And here I shall do two things First,
Inquire into the nature of the spiritual strength the Lord
gives his people. Second, Into the way and manner how he
conveys it to them.
As to the first, This spiritual
strength supposeth that the soul is made alive and raised out
of the grave of sin and a natural state, by the quickening
Spirit of God. And that the soul is united to Christ by faith,
who is the fountain and channel of all grace and spiritual
But more directly, God's
strengthening his people imports these things:
1. The Lord's creating and
implanting the habits of grace in the soul, which are the
strength of the soul: and therefore called the armour of God,
and our shield and helmet, Eph. vi.
2. His increasing of grace in the
soul; for he not only plants these habits, but strengthens
them, and gradually perfects what he has begun, Psal. xcii. 12,
3. His breathing on his work of
grace in the soul, and thereby actuating his people's graces,
and drawing them forth into a lively exercise: for God must not
only plant grace and increase it but also set it at work and
bring it into action," Phil. ii. 13, "It is God that worketh in
you both to will and to do."
4. The Lord's strengthening of
his fainting people imports his letting out and conveying of
fresh supplies of grace to his people, in the time of their
need. Not only doth he plant, increase, and actuate grace, but
likewise he doth come in with seasonable supplies and
reinforcements to the weak and decayed graces of his people,
answerable to their pressures and exigencies. Grace of itself
is but a creature, and subject to perish, and would soon be
destroyed by the frequent attacks made upon it, if it were not
seasonably reinforced with new supplies from its author. And
thus the Lord, from time to time, feeds the believer's lamp
with fresh oil; gives it more faith, more love, more hope, and
more desires; and thus he gives power to the faint, and
strengthens these things which remain when ready to die.
5. It imports the supplying the
soul with experiences of the power, mercy, and faithfulness of
God, for the nourishing and strengthening of faith in the time
of trial; and therefore we find the Lord, when he is
strengthening his fainting people, in the text and context, he
refers them to their former experience, ver. 27, 28, " Hast
thou not heard? Hast thou not known?" How then sayest thou,
that God hath forsaken thee! Often do we find David
strengthening his faith this way, Psal. xlii.; cxvi.
6. It lies in the Lord's applying
to the soul his gracious and comfortable promises, and thereby
animating his people with spiritual courage and resolution to
grapple with all their enemies and difficulties. He shows that
God is on their side, that his "grace is sufficient for them,
and that he will never leave them, nor forsake them," Isa. xli.
10; Psal. cxviii. 6; Heb. xiii. 5,6; 2 Cor. xii. 9.
7. The Lord strengthens his
people, by giving them an encouraging view and prospect of a
happy outgate from all their trials and discour-agements, and
of a glorious victory over all their enemies, Job xix. 25; Rom.
xvi. 20; 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.
I come to the second thing; viz.
To show the way and manner how this spiritual strength is
conveyed to believers. And this you may take up in these
1. God has treasured up in Jesus
Christ his Son, a fulness of grace and spiritual strength for
his people. As our Mediator is the purchaser of his strength,
so he is the trustee to whom it is given in order to be
bestowed upon believers. This is clear from the promises of God
for giving strength, they run in this channel, Zech. x. 12, "I
will strengthen them in the Lord;" i.e. in Christ, "and they
shall walk up and down in his name, saith the Lord.
"From the precepts of God which are in the same strain, Eph.
vi. 10, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,"
2 Tim. ii. 1, "My son, be strong in the grace that is in Jesus
Christ." From the practice of the saints, they all look
for their strength this way, Isa. xlv. 24, "Surely, shall one
say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength." And Paul
saith, Phil. iv. 18, "I can do all things through Christ who
strengtheneth me." So that Christ is our head of influence and
store-keeper. The stock of our grace and strength, since Adam's
fall and mismanagement, is all put in Christ's hand; he is the
great steward of heaven, the key of the store-house is in his
custody, and on him we must daily depend for necessary
2. The way that Christ our head
and treasurer communicates his strength, and gives out the
necessary supplies thereof to his people, is by the
ministration of the Holy Spirit, and his gracious operations
and influences on their souls, John xv. 29; xvi. 14, 15, And
for this effect, the Spirit of God dwells in believers, to
excite and draw forth their graces to frequent acts and a
lively exercise; and to give them, those gracious aids and
assistances their exigencies call for.
3. The way that the, Holy Spirit
gives this strength to believers is, in the use of appointed
means, both public and private, Psal,lxxxiv. 4-7. Where we see
that those who would go from strength to strength, must dwell
in God's house, and attend his ordinances. We expect not our
daily food without labouring, tilling, sowing, and reaping; so
neither can we look for spiritual strength but in the use of
the word, sacraments, and prayer.
IV. The fourth
thing in the general method is, To show what are the great ends
and uses for which the Lord gives this spiritual strength to
1. He gives it to them for doing
or performing of duty; for without new supplies of strength we
cannot act spiritually, nor persevere in duty: hence the spouse
cries out, Cant. i. 4, "Draw me, and we will run after thee."
And the psalmist saith, Psal. cxix. 32, "I will run the ways of
thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart." God's work
must ever be done in God's strength.
2. He gives it for suffering, and
bearing of crosses and afflictions, and we need God's strength
that we may do it without murmuring or fainting, Col. i.
V. The next thing
was to give reasons, why the Lord will certainly give suitable
strength to his people under all their exigencies.
1. Because it was purchased for
them by their Surety, Christ, and promised to them, in him,
Zech. x. 12.
2. Because they were, in the most
solemn and serious manner, recommended to the care of God by
his beloved Son Jesus Christ, when he was leaving the world,
John xvii. 11.
3. Because of their near relation
to him, and his great love to them; they are the subjects of
his kingdom, the children of his family; yes, they are, as it
were, the wife of his bosom; and will he not then take special
care of them?
4. Because they rely and depend
wholly upon the Lord himself for this strength and support.
Isa. xxvi. 3; Psal. Lvii. 2.
5. Because the Lord knows that
his people have many strong and dangerous enemies; and that
they have no inherent strength to hold out against them, having
lost all that by the fall. Yea, he knows that they have a
natural inclination to backsliding, that the seed of the worst
sin is in them, and of themselves they cannot stand before the
least spark of temptation; and so would be infallibly undone,
if he did not strengthen them, Hos. ii. 7; Psal. xix. 13.
Use I. Of Information. We may hence
1. That worldly prosperity and
carnal joy are no sign of God's favour: for God's people are
subject to many fainting discouragements here. Wicked men
receive their good things in this life, but believers' good
things are to come.
2. We may hence be informed of
the difference between the two covenants of works and grace.
Adam, by the first was to do all by his own inherent strength;
but believers, under the second, do all by borrowed strength,
and must he constantly beholden to God for new supplies. And it
is well for us that it is so, for our stock is far surer in
God's hand, than in our own. When the prodigal got his stock in
his own hand, he presently left his father's house, "went into
a far country," and squandered all away, and so would we, if
God should trust us with it. Besides, by this gracious method,
believers are kept humble all their days, and put to keep up a
constant correspondence with a throne of grace, and give all
the glory of their through-bearing to God's free grace. BIessed
be God for the well ordered covenant.
3. We may hence see, how great
security believers have for their through-bearing: almighty
power is engaged for them; they are strengthened and "kept by
the power of God, through faith, unto salvation." So that
everlasting strength must fail before a believer can finally
Use II. Of Reproof.
1. To those who are too
secure and confident when they attain to any spiritual comfort
or joy, and do not remember the fainting discouragements God's
people are subject to while in this world. O communicants, have
you been kindly entertained at this feast! Be not vain or
secure, all things here are changeable. How suddenly was
David's case altered! Psal. xxx. One time he is mounted up in
prosperity; but being too confident, he is presently cast down
and troubled. And in Psal. cxix. we find him at one time
"rejoicing in God's testimonies, as much as in all riches;" and
very soon after, his "soul is cleaving to the dust, and melting
for heaviness." Go not then to build too much on sensible
consolations, for these come and go at God's pleasure; it is in
heaven only you can have continual day without night or
cloudings; but here you are to look for changes, yea, for
fainting discouragements, therefore prepare for them by
securing a title to divine strength.
2. To these believers who give
too much way to fainting discouragements, and do not encourage
themselves in their covenanted God and his strength. I do not
marvel, O communicants, though you are cast down, who are
sensible of the hidings of God's face, the prevailing of
heart-plagues, the buffetings of Satan, &c. but only give
not way to excessive discouragement: I call it excessive when
it is ready to make you give over hopes, lay aside endeavours,
indispose you for holy duties, refuse to apply to Christ your
all-sufficient help, or refuse comfort from God's promises of
strength and support. Some indeed think religion lies in
desperate unbelieving thoughts, and in making of complaints:
but surely there is no religion there, otherwise we must
conclude Cain, Judas, and the damned, to be godly. Religion
rather lies in the actings of faith, and improving God's
promises for strengthening us in doing his will.
3. To Arminians, who maintain the
doctrine of free-will; viz. That it is in the power of a man's
free-will to do that which is spiritually and savingly good, if
he pleases to use his natural abilities. O, how little do these
men know themselves that talk so! for if it be not in the power
of a man's will, when graciously changed and, renewed to do
good, without superadded supplies of grace and strength from
God from time to time, as certainly it is not; far less can a
natural and unregenerate person do it, that is dead in
trespasses and sins.
4. To those communicants who look
not entirely to God in Christ for strength for the work and
warfare, duties and difficulties before them; but lean too much
to something in themselves, or something they have got at this
(1.) Some trust too much to the
stability of their own resolution and engagements. They have
vowed and sworn, and they hope likewise to perform accordingly.
But do not depend upon these, otherwise they will soon fail
you; as they did Peter after the first communion. The psalmist
was under many resolutions to keep close to the way of duty,
yet he says, Psal. lxxiii. 2, "My feet were almost gone, and my
steps had well nigh slipt." And he acknowledges it was nothing
but God's mercy that held him up, Psal. xciv. 18.
(2.) Others trust too much to the
stability of their gracious habits, without looking to God for
daily renewed influences of strength, for actuating and
recruiting their weak graces. But what is grace, faith, love,
fear of God, repentance, hope? Of themselves they are but
vanishing things, and if they were not seasonably strengthened
and supplied from heaven, they would soon die, Rev. iii. 2.
5. We may here reprove those who
make it an excuse for the neglect of duty, they want strength.
O! it is because they want will. For can you say, that though
you have no strength of yourselves; yet you desire to cast your
impotent souls in God's way, and aim at duty as ye can, looking
to God for strength, and pleading his promise? Could you say
this, it were something. Were you like a man rowing up the
water, and still beat back by the impetuous stream, you might
have some shadow of excuse; but when you do not make sincere
attempts, you can have none.
QUEST. How shall we undertake to perform duty, when
we are dead, and find influences and strength
ANS. Whatever be our case or frame, yet still God's command
is of binding force on us, and obliges us to do it.
2. No pretence of indisposition,
can warrant our not obeying a divine command: for our deadness
and indisposition is our sin, and one sin can never excuse
another. Two blacks cannot make one white. So that in a
dead hour, you must essay to do your duty, though you can do
nothing but the very outward form.
3. You must aim at your duty to
prevent greater evils, for if you neglect it wholly, your case
grows still worse: your deadness increases, your hardness,
impenitency, darkness, weakness, and indisposition, will still
4. By aiming at duty, you put
yourselves in God's road; and when, like the blind man, you lie
in Christ's way, you are more likely to get a visit or an alms
from him than those who stay at a distance.
5. Duties performed, when we are
indisposed, may be very pleasing to God. It must surely be
acceptable to our gracious Lord and Master, to see one of his
weak or lamed servants attempt to go his errands, though he
halt and make but slow progress in his way: nay, this will move
his tender heart to pity him, and give him strength. And many a
time have his servants got supplies of strength on a sudden,
when they have been essaying duty. Their souls, "ere they were
aware, have made them like the chariots of Aminadab," Cant. vi.
12. Therefore, O discouraged communicant, persist in aiming at
thy duty, whatever be thy present frame. Who knows, when thou
art lifting at thy heavy burden, but God will graciously lend
thee aid and lift it for thee.
Use III. Of Trial. O communicants,
examine if you have got any spiritual strength at this solemn
feast. Many a weak believer has found it a strengthening meal
to their fainting souls. Mark, if it be so with you.
1. Do ye find your graces more quick
and vigorous than formerly. As, for instance, 1. Is faith more
lively? Are you better pleased with the contrivance of grace,
and method of salvation, than before? And are you now enabled
to abandon your own righteousness, and go to your Surety,
Christ; laying the burden of your sins upon him, and leaning
wholly to him for pardon and acceptance with God: and also
looking to him as your head of influences for heart-purity and
sanctifying grace, and strength to perform duty? 2. Is your
repentance and grief for sin increased? Do you see more of
sin's deformity, and abhor it as the enemy of Christ? And are
you more afraid of piercing your Redeemer by it, and more
resolved against wicked company and temptations to sin, than
before? 3. Is your love and desire toward Christ more
quickened? Are you more restless without his presence? Would
you part with your best enjoyments in the world, for a sight of
his face? Are you more desirous of heart-holiness, that you may
be capable to serve Christ, and advance the interest of his
2. If this ordinance hath been a
strengthening meal to you, then you will find more delight in
duty than before, you will be inclined and enabled to pray more
fervently, to hear more attentively, to praise more
affectionately, to receive more believingly, keep the Sabbath
more exactly, watch over your heart and ways more diligently:
and, in a word, to be more humble and pious towards God, more
just and righteous towards man, and more sober and temperate
towards yourselves; yea, you will be more afraid to shift or
neglect any known duty, than you were before.
3. You will be more animated and
encouraged to "fight the good fight of faith," to resist the
devil's temptations, and the world's allurements, to struggle
against your lusts, and mortify indwelling sin. And you will be
setting conscience on the watch-tower, to give warning of the
enemy's approach; and you will not be slow to take the
4. If you have got more strength,
you will be better reconciled to the cross than formerly; and
content with patience and submission to underly what troubles
and afflictions the Lord thinks fit to try you with for your
soul's good; yea, and kiss the rod when it comes, saying "Good
is the will of the Lord concerning me."
Use IV. Of Exhortation. Let me hence exhort
you to several duties.
1. Let those believers, who are
not tried with such fainting discouragements as others, bless
God for his tenderness towards them, and bear their smaller
trials the more patiently. How gentle is your exercise and soul
trouble, in respect of Job's, David's, Heman's, and many
others, dear and near to God, who have been ready to faint
under their burdens, and pressed above measure; God is gracious
to you, he sees you are weak, and will not overburden you.
2. Let none misconstruct
believers' exercises of spirit, nor despise them, because they
are frequently faint and discouraged: for the greatest spirits
in the world have been thus exercised. David was a man of
singular valor, that had a heart as "the heart of a lion," 2
Sam. xvii. 10. A man of eminent wisdom, and therefore said to
be "wise as an angel of God," 2 Sam. xiv. 20. A man of a
cheerful temper, and a great master of music, and therefore
called the "sweet singer of Israel," 2 Sam. xxiii. 1. And yet
we frequently find him sore troubled, bowed down, cleaving to
the dust, and sharply exercised under the hidings of God's
face, and other soul-distresses.
3. Doth God give suitable
strength to his people in all exigencies? Let none abuse this
doctrine, by giving up with the use of the means that God has
appointed; and neglecting to use their own endeavours. For
though believers have Christ to lean to all their way in their
journey to heaven; yet none must expect to be carried thither
upon his shoulders, without setting down a foot. We may
warrantably look to him for strength for every duty; yet it is
in our using the means that this strength is conveyed.
4. Beware of leaning to
yourselves, and neglecting to look for this promised strength.
(1.) Lean not to your own purposes; for your "goodness is like
the morning dew." (2.) Lean not to your gracious habits; for
these are but creatures, and ready to die. (3.) Lean not to
your duties and performances; for they are defiled and unclean.
(4.) Lean not to your frames; for they are fleeting and
inconstant. And besides, it is highly dangerous and provoking
to God, for to trust in any of these; remember the fearful
curse that is pronounced against him "that trusteth in man, and
maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord,"
Jer. xxvii. 5, 6. Whom then shall we trust? Read Isa. xxvi. 4,
"Trust ye in the Lord fore ever; for in the Lord Jehovah is
5. Let all believing communicants
bless God for this new and excellent method of salvation
through Jesus Christ. The new covenant is far better than the
old. Now, our stock is not in our hand, but in Christ's, and he
manages it for us; which is our great happiness. As when God
brought Israel out of Egypt with a high hand, he did not set
them down on the other side of the Red sea, and then bid them
shift their way to Canaan: no, he led them on their way; yea,
"As a man carries his children, so he bare them all the way
they went. So when God, in a day of his power, brings an elect
soul out of spiritual Egypt; he doth not set him in the way
with a stock of strength in his hand, and then leave him to
march through the wilderness alone: no, he leads and supports
him all the way; for he knows that the whole country rises on
him in his march, and if left to go alone, without special and
renewed aid, he would never get to Canaan.
QUEST. But what course shall I take to get these
seasonable supplies of strength from God, that I may be helped
safe through the wilderness, without fainting and
ANS. Take these directions:
1. Labour to be thoroughly
convinced of your impotence and insufficiency; that you may be
weak in your own sane and feeling; for the way to be strong, is
to be weak, according to the apostles experience, 2 Cor. xii.
10. 'When I am weak, then am I strong." Hence also it is said
of these worthies, Heb. xi. 34, "Out of weakness they were made
strong," i.e., out of weakness felt and apprehended.
2. Humbly represent and bemoan
your impotence before God, like Ephraim, Jer. xxxi. 18, "I
heard Ephraim bemoaning himself, I was a bullock unaccustomed
to the yoke." He felt his own impotence and aversion to what
was good; and then he groans and looks up to God for power:
"Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my
God." And, in the next verse, we see how readily the Lord stept
in with pity and help to him. Thus also did Jehoshaphat, and
found help, 2 Chron. xx. 12, "We have no might against this
great company that cometh against us, neither know we what to
do; but our eyes are upon thee; q. d. Though we be weak,
yet we know thou art infinitely powerful, and full of
3. Use well any small power you
have, and it will increase. The right arm is more strong and
vigorous than the left, because it is more exercised. So grace,
the more it is exercised, the more it grows, Mat. xiii. 12;
Prov. x. 29.
4. Wait on the Lord in the
diligent use of the means; for it is promised, Isa. xl. 31,
"They that wait upon the Lord, shall renew their strength." And
in Psal. xxvii. 14, "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and
he shall strengthen thy heart: wait, I say, on the Lord." We
must use, but not trust to the means, but to God in the due use
5. Walk tenderly, and guard
against every known sin; for sin lets out the soul's strength,
as bleeding lets the spirit out of the body.
6. Be often looking, in a
believing way, to the Mediator, Christ, your Treasurer and Head
of influences; and derive all your supplies of strength from,
and through him alone.
7. Carefully entertain the
Spirit's motions, and fall in with them. "Grieve not the Spirit
of Christ, which is sent to strengthen you; otherwise you will,
in so doing, cast away your strength from you.
yourselves, O communicants, with the word of God, and its
gracious promises of strength; lay them up in store against the
time of need, and plead them humbly with God: for prayer,
grounded on a promise is likely to prevail. This was David's
argument under his faintings, Psal. cxix. 28, "Strengthen thou
me according to thy word." And he had the experience of its
prevailing with God Psal. cxxxviii. 3, "In the day when I
cried, thou answeredest me, and strengthenedst me with strength
in my soul." I shall add no more, but conclude with the
apostle's words, 1 Pet. v.10, 11, "The God of all grace, who
hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after
that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish,
settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever."
John Willison was born in the year 1680, in the
neighborhood of Stirling, Scotland. Not much is know about his
personal and private life, but soon after he competed his
academic career, he received a unanimous call to serve as
pastor from a parish in Brechin in 1703. About the year 1718 he
was transferred to Dundee where he remained for the remainder
of his life, serving a large congregation. He served as a
faithful minister of the gospel for 47 years until his death on
the 3rd of May, 1756. John Willison was a man of great piety
and a staunch defender of the faith. We are indeed fortunate to
have extant copies of his sermons and his polemical works, from
which the above sermon is derived.
This is the last of five of his "Five Sacramental
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