James Meikle, 1730-1799
The author wrote these meditations
ON GOING INTO HARBOR.
Nov. 5, 1758.
One would think that when the tempests and the dangers of the sea are over, all were safe; and that in sight of land we would laugh at shipwreck. Yet the experience of thousands, attest, that on coasts more ships are lost than at sea. And so the Government has prudently appointed pilots to bring in British ships, that they may be in no danger while coming into harbor.
Now, what may this remind us of, but that the saints, and such as look for an happy anchoring in the port of bliss, should be very careful how they steer the last part of their long and momentous voyage; how they enter the 'harbor of death'—where their ship is to be laid up, not for a winter, but forever! They are to beware that they do not stick on the sands of 'carnal security'; or run into the shallow waters of 'lukewarm indifference'; or be blown on the rocks of 'false confidence'—by the high winds of spiritual delusion. A mistake here may occasion damage, but, though it cost expenses, may be mended.
But among men, a mistake at death is fatal, and of the greatest consequence, because it can never be mended afterwards. Again, the tide is a mighty assistant in our getting into harbor here; but to dying mortals, the Jordan of death is a terrible river, which overflows all its banks; and it is the fear of dissolution that keeps some all their lifetime subject to bondage. Yes, and by this current, thousands and ten thousands are hurried into the horrid pit of perdition. But in a surprising manner the saints go over dry shod; for the High Priest, who bears the ark of the everlasting covenant, and all the rich grace and precious promises that it contains, having that river to wade through which runs in the way of all living; once did so, with the soles of his feet, when he was found in fashion as a man, and humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross—so that it remains still cut in two to the saints—even while it overflows all its banks to the wicked.
The more we advance into the earthly harbor, the more we are out of danger from the storms and tempests that sweep along the ruffled ocean. But it is otherwise with the dying saint; Satan does all he can to cloud his evidences, to deaden his faith, to blacken his infirmities, to make him doubt his own condition, to misname his graces, to slay his confidence, to draw him away from Christ, and drive him into despair—anxious to make a wreck of him even in sight of Immanuel's shore.
Yet all the powers of hell shall never pluck the least of Christ's little ones out of his hand. But how watchful should we be, and how careful to prepare for these critical moments! for we are like a ship that has traded for a long time in the East-Indies, and comes borne with all her treasures; so our all, our everlasting all, is lost if we sink at last. However, our safety lies in this alone—that he whose presence calms the raging sea, and fierce winds—shall be our pilot to the harbor of the better country—to the port of glory!
ON TAKING IN LARGE PROVISIONS.
Portland Roads, Dec. 15, 1758.
Surely the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind, than are the people of the light. For those on land provide what they need for the winter; and those at sea take in large stores of all necessities, when they are to make a long voyage. Now, my soul, what have you laid up for eternity—this solemn, this crucial voyage, which you must make? Your voyage has already begun, and if you are not adequately prepared, you must suffer irreparable loss forever—as there is no 'oil' to be bought (this the foolish virgins shall find) in the other world—no 'grace' to be found, nor pardon to be expected (this all impenitent sinners shall experience) on the other side of the grave.
Death cuts down the tree as it stands—which falls as it grows—and as it falls must lie forever. Why then, O blinded Papists—your prayers and masses for the dead! To as good purpose apply medicines to dead bodies to bring them to life again—as use prayers for departed lost souls to bring them to heaven. It is now in this present world—that we must be prepared for eternity—where our vast and highest concerns lie.
If this ship should go out to cruise for three months in the main ocean without food or water, or any other provisions—would not all the crew be changeable with consummate folly—as all must inevitably perish with hunger? But of greater madness am I possessed—if my soul goes out into the boundless ocean of eternity without a saving interest in Christ—who is the tree of life which feeds, and river of life which waters, all the children of God.
According to the length of our voyage—must be the quantity of provisions taken aboard. And indeed nothing less than a whole God, in all his fullness and perfections; an all-sufficient Savior, in all his offices and relations; and the Holy Spirit, in all his divine influences and consolations—can be a proper provision for my soul through time and eternity.
COMFORT AND TERROR IN ONE CONSIDERATION.
Portland Roads, Dec. 19, 1758.
When the affairs of war, or the necessities of our trade, call for a change of climates, and hurry us from the chilling North to the burning South; it may afford comfort to the pious soul to reflect—that the God on whom he built his hopes here, is also there to answer all the expectations of his faith. But it may strike terror into the profligate wretch, to think that the God against whom he sinned here, is also there to punish his iniquity. Then I see that the omnipresence of God may be a panacea—a universal cure—to the anxiety of my soul everywhere. For God may call his redeemed people away from their own home, their friends, their country—but he will never cast them from his protection, his presence, himself! Then, though I leave my friends and acquaintances—and go to the remotest Indies, or most distant parts of the world—still the same God who here manifests himself so gracious and so kind, is the same God who governs under the whole heaven, and there can manifest himself in his accustomed tender mercy, and loving-kindness.
"Where can I go from him who is everywhere?" this is my comfort. And where will you, O sinner! fly from him who is everywhere? let this be your terror. For the God who dwells between the cherubim of a gospel-dispensation, sits also on the floods; and he who rules in Jacob, rules also unto the ends of the earth. Moreover, when I leave this world to go into the unknown world—then the same God (for he who measures the moments of my time, inhabits eternity) whom I served here, shall receive me there. This is the excellency of the Christian religion, that we, as it were, begin eternity in time, and join in our adoration with the multitudes of heaven.
Deluded nations of old trusted in gods which could not move, but needed to be carried by their demented votaries! But the true God, who is an everlasting King, has been the God of his chosen people in all places of the world, and in all ages, yes, before the world began! Hence says Moses, "You have been our dwelling-place in all generations, before you had brought forth the mountains!" And when time is gone, and ages finished, he will be their dwelling-place, who is from everlasting to everlasting God. Then happy I, if I have an abiding relationship, and sure interest in him who is everywhere present, as to his place; and inhabits eternity, as to his duration. Time past and to come only has relevance to us mortals. For with God it ever was, is, and will be—one eternal now.
Every way I look, there is safety! If I dwell I at home—God is there! If I go abroad—God is there! If I live I in this world—God holds it in his hand, and sees under the whole heaven! If I die, and go out of the world—God is there filling all, and in all.
Now, O sinner! stand still, and see your misery! You sin against God—and how shall you escape? You may injure a fellow creature, and, by going into some distant part of the world, elude law, and laugh at justice; and if you die, you are out of the reach of the pursuer to all intents and purposes. But flee where you will—you are still in God's power, still in his presence—whom you have offended!
Remember, that he whom you have made your enemy all your life long—will at last be your judge, and supreme tormentor—whose breath shall kindle the burning stream. Sinners and saints may have common comforts, and common crosses. But one thought on eternity spreads horror through the soul of the one—while it diffuses consolation in the bosom of the other!
ON BEING IN HOT CLIMATES IN A FEW DAYS.
Under sail for Gibraltar, Feb. 2, 1759.
How a few days sailing can chill us in the freezing north—or warm us in the pleasant south! Of the last we had experience, while with expanded sail we approached the sunny warmth! This short and sudden change suggests an interesting thought to my mind—that at the hour of death, in a shorter time than this—the soul shall either be placed in that degree of distance away from God, where eternal winter blows dreadfully, with all the angry storms and tempests of vindictive wrath. Or the soul shall into eternal communion with the Most High God, where the Sun of righteousness shall shine from his cloudless meridian, and pour down assimilating glory in every beam. This stupendous thought I cannot, I dare not pursue—but, in silence, give way to deep Meditation.
AN HIGH WIND PREFERABLE TO A CALM.
Under sail, Feb. 15, 1759.
Among the wonders of navigation, this is one, that through opposing waves which dash on every side, and amidst winds so strong that they seem rather a tempest than a moderate gale—the ship should pursue her voyage with greater speed, and reach her port sooner, than in a profound calm. Indeed he that never had his foot on salt water before, and adventures only on the glassy lake to take his pleasure, will bless the serenity, and congratulate the calm. But the spirited sailor who minds his business, and has other climates in view, will rather wish a brisk gale to waft him to the distant shore, than to roll about in a dead calm until his vessel grow rottens in the water, and sinks.
Even so, Christian, it fares with you. Believe it, the calmest weather does not make the best voyage heavenward. It is better for you to proceed on your course through the rolling waves of affliction, attended by the ruffling winds of adversity—than to be calmed into inactivity—by affluence, ease, and prosperity. The one, through 'seeming difficulty' and threatened danger, shall at last bring you safely to your desired haven; while he other detains you to your eternal ruin. God, who sits as king on the swelling flood—rules also all the afflictions of his people. Though sometimes they complain, "All your waves and your billows have gone over me," yet not one can attack them, but by his permission, nor swell beyond the given bounds.
Covenant-mercy has established the kind decree, "Thus far you shall go—but no further; and here shall your perplexing waves be stayed." Why then should the Christian mariner on the flood of time, so cry out against the boisterous wind, afflictive wave, and foaming billow—which only hasten the journey to the pacific shore? Have not some, by the thorny cross, been startled out of their delusive dreams, and awakened to the concerns of a world to come? Have not some, by the loss of a child, found the Son of God? Have not some, by the death of an earthly father, been brought into subjection to the heavenly Father, and so made to live? And have not some, while unjustly deprived of a small part of the petty inheritance in this world, been made to look out for an inheritance in the better country—a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens?
To say no more, will not the experience of the saints agree in this—that while their outward man seems to decay through the lashes of daily affliction, their inward man is renewed day by day; so that in the year of drought, their soul is as a watered garden?
ON SAILING NEAR DIFFERENT NATIONS.
Feb. 20, l759.
There is a great pleasure in sailing to different parts of the world—to see the divine wisdom, and profuse bounty of God everywhere displayed. But there is a great pain in this—that wherever we go, we see the terrible devastation of sin. If we look to one shore—there superstition reigns. If we look to another shore—there cruelty rages. In one place they are deluded Papists; in another place they are violent Mohammedans; while those in a third location are mere infidels. All worship some God—but how few the true God. How very few worship the true God in truth!
O, then, that God would have respect to his covenant, because the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of horrid cruelty! When shall the darkness that covers the nations—the gross darkness that covers the people—be dispelled by the light of the glorious gospel of the Son of God? Shall Satan continue to take kingdoms captive at his will? Shall the destroyer of the Gentiles ruin precious souls without number? Shall he not spare continually to slay the nations? Let not the curse devour the earth, and those who dwell thereon. When shall the name of Jew and Gentile be lost in that of Christian, and professing Christians become the true worshipers of the Father, the followers of the Lamb? When shall that reviving acclamation charm the ears of all the expectants, of the sacred conquest, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. And he shall reign for ever and ever!"
ON REACHING A PORT AFTER BEING LONG AT SEA.
Gibraltar Bay, Feb. 21, 1759.
Now we have reached the desired haven, when our patience was almost worn out, and we had been long contesting with by the unfavorable gale. Among the baffling winds we spent at least thrice the time that might have brought us hither; but now, when safely moored, the dark reflections fly, and the disagreeableness of our voyage decreases, through joy that we have come so safe to an anchor. The very difficulties that overtook us on the ocean make our coming to harbor afford us greater pleasure, than if a favorable wind in a few days had wafted us hither.
Even so, when the saints of God reach the happy shore, it shall, as it were, heighten the joys of their eternal home—that they once dwelt so long in the house of mourning. It shall soften their rest—that they once were tossed on a stormy ocean. It shall brighten the heavenly vision—that they once have seen scenes of affliction. It shall swell their happiness and delight—that their life was once full of disappointment and pain. It shall sweeten these rivers of pleasures—that they once have drank the bitter waters of Mara.
Here the troubled sailor in a storm is afraid of shipwreck every moment. But the saint may be assured, (why then, O saints! so much doubting?) that he shall safely arrive at Immanuel's coast, in spite of all the storms which attack him, and tempests which attend him along the way. Courage, then, my soul, and weather out the squalls, and endure the bitterest blasts that can blow against you, triumphing in this one consideration—that the eternal God is engaged for your security. The storms that now beset you are but transient, and also bounded. But the rest and peace, the felicity and joys, that are reserved for you—are eternal, immense, and passing all understanding!
ON A MAN WHO DIED BY LIQUOR.
Under sail, Mediterranean, March 6, 1759.
In how many things is it possible for man to sin? Every blessing he can turn into a curse! Every mercy he can suck misery from! By excess—the means of life become the occasion of death. How sad a use make we of God's creation, when it renders us incapable of serving our Creator. This is the case, not only with the drunkard and glutton—but with the carnal-minded man, who focuses on the cares and riches of this world!
This demented wretch, this poor fellow-creature—used his blessings to his own destruction. He was a more cruel suicide or self-murderer, than if he had given himself a mortal wound. For then he might have died awake, and with the exercise of his reason—but now he undergoes the last, the most tremendous change while in a stupor, and totally deprived of the use of reason! He drank until he dropped down in a drunken stupor, out of which it was impossible to awake him—until plunged into the eternal and changeless world! How terrible to die in such a condition!
If any dreams, reflection, or remembrance of former things, could penetrate his profound slumber, his deep stupor—he would wish himself to be still among his companions, drinking another glass, and quaffing it down merrily among his mates. But O how inconceivably astonished, and terribly surprised—to find himself in his sober wits, standing before the solemn tribunal, and hear his final sentence passed! Gladly would he recoil into the besotted body which he just left—but the union is dissolved, the tie is broken, and he is thenceforth an inhabitant in the eternal world of the damned!
Perhaps he dreamed, while the fiery spirits were burning up his vitals, that he was drinking at some cooling stream. But how disappointed to find his first draught to be the wine of the fierceness of the wrath of God, poured out without the least mixture of mercy! The last words he spoke were curses—but how does it strike him with terror to hear the belching of consummate despair—while he felt himself at once surrounded with the howlings of hell, the blasphemies of the damned, and all the groans and yellings of the burning pit! What tongue can tell, what heart conceive what he must feel?
Indeed the thoughtless rabble seemed somewhat amazed at his premature death. But how superficial is their concern while they continue the very same excesses which proved fatal to their fellow-creature!
But however amazed man may be at this manner of the soul's going into eternity, in such a doleful case, in such a melancholy condition—this is actually how the whole graceless world dies. For even though they have the use of all their senses, and the exercise of their reason to the last—yet their souls, with respect to spiritual things—are as fast asleep, as deadly and deeply intoxicated with the juice of the vine of Sodom, even the draughts of sin and pleasure—as this poor man who died as an alcoholic. And they shall be equally astonished, terrified, tormented—when they awake in the eternal world of the damned!
THE EARTH, A GLOBE.
Under sail, Mediterranean, March 13, 1759.
Wherever I sail, the earth is still beneath my feet, and the heaven is still above my head. This shows the madness of man's desire—which has no limits—though its object is everywhere limited. It is not for a kingdom exalted above the hills, that the contending nations now are at war—it is but for a 'breadth of dust'—that tribes are slaughtered, and nations are undone. Were there nothing better than this poor earth, no wonder if we sought to extend our possession in the earth. It would be excusable for avarice to seek to possess the ends of the world, if there the 'golden mountains' arched above our heads with all their sparkling veins. But still this gold—this 'idol of mankind' lies buried in ore, and deep in the midst of the earth, that it may not affect our ambitious eye. And still the heavens bend above us, to attract the soaring principle essential to the human soul.
But as man despises what he should esteem, and doats on what he should abhor—seeking the creature more than the Creator, who is himself blessed forever, and makes all who seek him blessed; God, in a way of judgment, "has set the world in the hearts of men." Hence their whole chase, study, and endeavor, is for the world—which, though in great abundance obtained, cannot satisfy us. Yet, believing that an addition to what we already have, will afford that satisfaction which we are conscious we need, our chase is perpetuated—and we are still disappointed. But how poor a heart-full have we who embrace our sepulcher, and hug our very tomb! For we must shortly lie buried among the earth we so much admire—and rot in the dust which we so regard. What is an empire—to an immortal soul? What is the enjoyment of the whole universe for a few years—to one whose existence must measure with endless eternity? Then, as the earth is under my feet, and the heavens above my head, wherever I wander, let my affections trample this world with just disdain. But let my soul, on the wings of holy desire, soar to the regions of eternal day!
ON SHIPS MISTAKING ONE ANOTHER.
Mediterranean, March 14, 1759.
How often on the ocean do we prepare to fight a friend ship! Wherever we see a strange sail that belongs not to our fleet or squadron, we look upon her as an enemy, and so give chase. When at last, we learn that she is out on our side. But at other times, while in the dark night, and misunderstanding each other's signals—we think we have found our enemy, and so fire upon one another. When the morning light undeceives us, we feel the most intense sorrow for our mistake; though our country has made provision for the family of the unhappy sufferers if they die, or the sufferers themselves if rendered lame, by engaging one another through mistake.
Even so is the case often among the saints and churches of God. Contests come between the best of men, and sometimes about the smallest matters. Paul and Barnabas are so hot about their companion, that they part company; and to this day the godly can be at odds about a word, though they own one Lord, and subscribe to one creed. Then, from these differences, we think one another to be enemies; and, giving ground to our apprehensions, we begin to treat each other as enemies to the truth, and to the King of Zion—to the injury of the common cause of true religion, and the hurt of the loyal subjects of Heaven.
Such indeed are the trials of the saints and church in their earthly state, such are the calamities that are contingent to her in these days of darkness, and on this sea of trouble. But when they come to speak mouth to mouth, and to see eye to eye in the light of glory, they shall be all one. We should indeed contend for the truth with a zeal and concern due to its divinity—but with a tenderness and sympathy which our present imperfection pleads for. We should love the truth dearly—but yet rather pity than despise those who depart from some points which we count truth. We should not sell the truth to buy friends, or gain numbers to our side; but we should forego our own personal opinions, that the truth be not wounded by us. We had sometimes, better employ our time in prayer to God, to turn them from the error of their way—than show our learning and our spleen, in proving them to be wittingly blind, and to have wilfully erred. We should do all things—except wound the truth—to make all men one in the truth. And when differences are done away, personal affronts should never stand in the way of reconciliation. How deplorable would it be, if my hands, instead of being a mutual help, should scratch and tear another; if my feet, instead of taking me out the way, should kick at another! So, and much worse is it for saints, who are the spiritual members of Christ, the living head, to bite and devour one another; but this is owing to the remains of corruption in them; and perfect peace is reserved for the state of highest perfection.
Now, as it is only at sea, and under the gloom of night, that we are likely to make mistakes; for when we come into harbor, and enjoy the noon-day beam, we have no doubt of one another—but know that we are all the subjects of one King, engaged in one cause, and combined against the common enemy; so it is only in this valley of tears, this day of thick darkness, that we cannot understand one another—but are ready, like the meddlesome disciples, to forbid those who who do not follow us in all things, though they are the servants of Christ.
But when the warfare is finished, and the saints assembled before the throne of God and the Lamb, all wrong views, jarring opinions, discordance and difference—shall be done away forever. In view of which eternal tranquility, we must comfort ourselves under the disagreeable occurrences of this troublesome life, where we not only must fight with foes—but at times disagree with dearest friends.
WHAT WE OUGHT TO REMEMBER.
Leghorn, April 5,1759.
As we can never be from under the eye of God, nor would choose to be cast out of his care; so Christ's kingdom should never be out of our mind, nor cast out of our concern. Besides, as we still think ourselves branches of the family to which we belong, and are glad to hear from our parents and relations of their welfare, however distant from them; so if we are members of mystical Zion, we will rejoice in her prosperity, and flourishing condition, though we be in the utmost parts of the earth. Surely, then, if I remember the Lord afar off, as I ought, the church will also come into my mind.
"How, then, have matters stood with Christ's kingdom, in the land of my nativity? What success has the glorious gospel had? how have the flocks been fed? how have people profited in the day of their merciful visitation? how has vice been suppressed, and true religion prevailed? how has truth been defended, and error exposed? how have the oppressed been relieved, and the heritage of God watered? what sons and daughters have been born in Zion? and are the true worshipers of the Father increased?" These things, amidst all my other concerns, should go nearest my heart, and the interests of Christ's kingdom should be my first concern, wherever my habitation for a time may be, hoping he will brings me home again, and shows me both himself and his habitation. "If I forget you, O Jerusalem! let my right hand forget her cunning; if I do not remember you, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."
THE PATIENCE OF GOD VERY GREAT.
Leghorn, April 6, 1759.
Truly it astonishes me that God spares those abandoned wretches, who day by day grow more wicked, and set their blaspheming tongues against the very heavens, and multiply rebellion against God. Truly it surprises me, that that vengeance which they so often invoke, is not poured down on them; that that power which they so often dare, does not destroy them! But God will manifest himself to be God by his adorable patience, as well as by his inflexible justice.
Let me suppose—that the subjects of a certain great king rise up in rebellion against him, but by his superior power are routed, reduced, and all made prisoners; that royal clemency makes out a pardon for many, who are so sensible of the unmerited favor, that they throw away the weapons of their rebellion, and ever after live the most obedient, loyal, and affectionate subjects that can be. But suppose that others are apprehended, tried, condemned, and cast into prison, until the day they are to be brought forth and broken on the wheel; that in the mean time the stubborn wretches keep railing and abusing the prince, and spewing out their malice to everyone that passes by, until it reaches the royal ear; yet that it could not so incense the king as to cause him to send and tear the rebels limb from limb an hour before the set time. Even so deals God with sinners; he exercises amazing forbearance, not willing that any should perish—but at last he will punish dreadfully, and allow no sinner to escape.
Do I, then, envy them their few peaceful years? or would I, like the disciples of old, fetch down consuming flames from heaven to burn them up, before he comes in flaming fire to take vengeance on his enemies? No! let mercy reign her time; for with respect to the wicked, mercy shall soon give the throne to inexorable justice, and then their misery shall be past expression, and their overflowing anguish shall exceed the fountain of their tears.
Leghorn, April 9, 1759.
Among all the various kinds of delusion—that which concerns the soul, religion, and God—is most melancholy, and has the most dismal effects. Some, because born in a religious family, account themselves Christians from their cradle, and give themselves no concern about the new birth. Others think all is well with them, because they are neither swearers nor liars, drunkards nor fornicators; they are honest, have a form of godliness, and hence think themselves in a fair way for heaven—even though they are ignorant of spiritual union to him who is the life of the soul, and quite unacquainted with the life of faith in the Son of God.
Again, there are others who have been very wicked in their younger days, have been in the army or navy, and then and there have committed all wickedness with greediness. Now, if these men are separated from their wicked companions, and live where sobriety is more in fashion, they drop their cursings, and go regularly to church; and if they have entered into the married state, and prove faithful to the marriage vows—then they count themselves converted, and bless their happy state, though they have never undergone, and know nothing of, a saving change.
Though the most wicked are at all periods of life invited to return to God, yet what numbers perish through delusion—are averse to test themselves—and build for eternity on sand! Not to speak of the delusions of popery, which makes a merchandise of souls; there are some who, because they have had some legal terrors, some awakenings, and some resolutions to amend, though ignorant of the new birth, think they are converted. And there are others, in the decline of life, feeling death fast approaching—who begin to be startled at dissolution, and affrighted to plunge into eternity, condemn the grosser actions of their life, and their ill-spent time, and so, to make amends for all, read much in the Bible, and other religious books; but still the sin of their nature lies out of sight; nor do they advert to this, that a man must be born again, else he shall never see the kingdom of heaven. And yet such men pass for converts among the men of the world.
ON SEEING SLAVES AT WORK.
Leghorn, April 10, 1759.
To what hard circumstances are some fellow-creatures reduced! These poor men are in bondage, without any expectation of freedom until death delivers them. Are not their heavy burdens and severe labor punishment enough, without dragging the iron chain, which, locked about their ankles, links them two by two, or couples them like dogs together? and yet, as if all this were not severity enough, see the armed soldiers attend them everywhere!
O sinners! Satan deals far worse with you—and yet you will not leave his service, his slavery, and become Christ's free men.
Whence is it that the men of the world, the sons of vice, think the saints of God shackled and confined, and that themselves only are free. They assume the title of libertines and free-thinkers, when indeed they are fettered drudges, narrow souls, and slaves of Satan? The saints, and they alone, walk at liberty, being ransomed from their cruel captivity by price, and delivered by power.
These slaves have hard labor—but a coarse and scanty diet; so, when sinners weary themselves in the fire, they are fed—but with wind; and their belly is filled—but with the whirlwind.
They are under the check and control of soldiers, who are commonly the dregs of society; so the sinner is under the check of the basest passions, under the influence of the most sordid lusts, and sees not his misery.
Satan makes the men who serve him, drag along with them all the signs of slavery, and badges of bondage, which it is possible for them to be loaded with; and they even weary themselves for very vanity. Their pleasures pierce and give pain; their joys are acid, and their enjoyments full of torment. All that they can possess themselves of, has still a deficiency; and yet they hunt after shadows, and pursue imaginary bliss. Moreover, Satan, like the sentries of these poor slaves, is still pushing sinners on to works of darkness, and the reward at last is more shame, more sorrow, and more torment!
Though these men toil hard all the day, yet at night they have not a soft bed to rest thereon their weary limbs. In the same way, sinners who weary themselves to commit wickedness all their life, at last lie down in sorrow amidst devouring flames!
Indeed these poor creatures have the night allowed for their repose—but sinners often pass the silent night in scenes of darkness, and their very dreams are filled with the rambles of the day.
Again, these are slaves through life—but death unlocks the fetters, and knocks off the chains, and gives them perfect liberty. But with the wicked it is not so, for if grace does not deliver them—death only seals their slavery, and shuts them up in the prison of the bottomless pit! Oh! melancholy truth, that Satan's slaves should be so many, and so content with their sad condition—though death and hell attend its latter end!
Under sail near Sardinia, April 21, 1759.
It is a laudable practice among these nations, to make all ships, that come from places where the plague now and then appears, perform quarantine; and during that time to forbid their own people all interaction with the suspected crews. If it is commendable to be careful of the welfare of a nation, how culpable is that church that receives or keeps in her communion people immoral in their life, or unsound in the faith. How dangerous in private people, who pretend to be religious—to contract acquaintance, intimacy, or friendship with men of loose morals or libertine principles. O my soul! come not into their society! How cautious should we be to mingle in the company of the wicked, where we are sure to suffer one way or other! And our care herein ought to extend to all the connections of life. Would I admit into my house people who were infected with the plague? and would I take into my bosom that person, in other respects however amiable and dear, if full of the pestilence? How agreeable, then, to have the fearers of God, the citizens of Zion, for my friends? to have Christ's free men for servants in my family! and such as have a saving interest in Christ for my nearest connections!
O to see things in their proper light, and not put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter; time in the place of eternity, and eternity in the place of time; the creature in the place of God, and give God no place at all.
The longed for day arrives, when the officers of health inspect the crew, pronounce us clean, and permit us to come ashore; and then we mingle in every company, appear in every place. Even so, when Jesus, in that memorable day, a day longed for by the lovers of his name, acquits his saints before an assembled world, they shall rise to heaven, walk the streets of glory, mingle with angels, and dwell forever with God!
May 5, 1759.
Of what excellent use is the compass to the mariner in his course from one country to another! It is his guide over the trackless ocean, so that the darkness of the night shortens not his sail, nor turns him out of the way. By this he reaches the remotest parts of the world, and adventures out into the immeasurable main. By this the trading nations stand and flourish, and kingdoms share mutually the commodities of one another. Even such is the everlasting gospel, such the word of God, to the rational world. By this we reap the blessings of paradise, and are enriched with the productions of the better country. By that mariners plow the wide ocean; by this we launch into unbounded eternity itself.
The usefulness of the needle rises from the magnetic virtue with which it is impregnated, and which makes it point always to the north; so the excellency of the scripture is, that it came not by the will of men—but holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit; and therefore it leads all who will attend to its instructions to God. Now, as one piece of metal, capable of receiving the magnetical influence, will communicate it to another piece of the same metal; yet, whatever way the virtue is received, when properly suspended, it points to the true pole; so the scriptures and the ordinances never teach men to rest in them—but to rise to God, the chief good, and ultimate end of all; and to this purpose all inspiration points, and all teaching and preaching tend.
How deplorable would a ship at sea be, without its compass! and no less so were the world lacking Scriptural revelation, without which they could not find the haven of glory. What, then, must the misery of those nations be, who sit in gross darkness! and the cruelty of those who will not let the poor people look into the words of eternal life!
But, alas! for all this noble assistant of navigation, how many ships perish in storms, or mistake their reckonings, and are dashed on rocks! Even so, in the Christian world, for all this divine guide, how many make shipwreck of a good conscience, perish amidst the storms of temptation, in the dark night of defection, and, by opposing error to truth, dash against moveable rocks, and are lost forever.
The compass is in no respect so useful to the seaman, as the scriptures to the Christian, by which errors are discovered, dangers disclosed, doubts discussed, darkness dispelled, and our eternal concerns laid open to our view. They are our cloud which shelters us in the desert, a light to our path, our companion by the way, our counselors, and our song in the house of our pilgrimage.
The compass is of little or no use at home, when we take up our fixed residence, and travel no more from shore to shore. So, when the saints arrive at heaven, and take up their last abode in the divine presence—they shall stand in need no more of gospel ordinances and the scriptures.
But again how does that needle give a lively idea of the soul that is truly united to Christ! it seeks its center, and the saint says to his soul, "Return to your rest, O my soul!" Take the compass to whatever part of the world you please, still it turns to the north pole; so the saints, in all conditions, and in all places, still seek to Christ. And like the Jews in captivity, who prayed with their faces toward Jerusalem, so the saints in their pilgrimage have their faces towards Zion, their hearts heavenward, their conversation in heaven.
Indeed it is possible to toss the needle from its pole—but see in what confused motion it agitates, and never rests until it has reached its center again; so the spouse may miss her Beloved—but she rests not seeking him everywhere, and asking at everyone she meets, "Have you seen him whom my soul loves?" nor gives up the inquiry, until she finds him, and, with all the vehemency divine affection, embraces him in the arms of her soul; with a resolution never to let him go again.
The attractive power in the magnet is a secret in nature, for no visible change is in the needle more than before; it is by the effects that we know it has been touched by the load-stone, in its attracting, and being attracted, and turning to the pole. So the new birth, the spiritual union between Christ and the soul, is an unsearchable mystery that no finite creature can explain; for there is a glorious change made in the man, yet the physical man is not changed; he continues still a man—human, frail, changeable, mortal, possessed of the same feelings, powers, passions—only they are all directed into a noble channel, and by this the change is known.
Finally (to add no more) as the needle is always in a tremulous motion, though pointing toward its pole; because of the restless ocean on which it is, and the false attraction with which it meets; yet, when the ship is laid up and the compass set on solid ground, the needle will point to its pole forever, without the least hair-breadth of variation. So is it with the saints. They endeavor to make God the rest and center of their souls; yet in this day of sin and sorrow, in this valley of misery and tears, where false attractions surround them, their dependence is not so entire on him, their faith not so firm, nor their communion so close as they could wish. But when they are translated to the highest heaven, God shall be the rest of their souls, their center and sole delight forever!
IN A ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.
May 18, 1759.
Ah! what a false system does 'human invention' make in the worship of God! Where a superstitious show prevails, godly sincerity decays. The expenses here are great—but the spiritual profit none. They have lifted up the tools of human invention on the altar of God, which renders it polluted. To what purpose are all these statues, images, and paintings? To what end so many representations of a suffering Savior? The new life is begun by the operation of the Spirit of God, and not by an inspection of pictures. Christ formed spiritually in the soul is the end of revelation—but not to carve him out into a statue. It is true, here he stands with all the signs of agony and pain, the pricking thorns are wreathed about his head, and the blood is streaming down on every side! but who is this? did I not know the story, did not the superscription tell me, I would take him for some great malefactor who was so cruelly abused! A man, indeed, in all imaginable anguish, is cut out to the life, where the skill of the artist—but the folly of the contriver, eminently appear; but nothing more appears, not one beam of his divinity shines forth.
If he were no more than what this statue sets him forth, a poor, infirm suffering mortal, our hopes would have died with him—but had had no resurrection: it might excite our sympathy as to a fellow-creature—but never claim our faith as a Savior, Christ the Lord. The union of the two natures in one person, and his substitution in the room of sinners, is the interesting mystery, and basis of religion. Now, what painter or limner, what sculptor or artist can exhibit this? how vain, then, their incentives to devotion! Yes, though our Savior were yet alive, his humanity could not be the object of adoration; hence he reproved the young man for calling him "Good Master," seeing he considered him not as God-man—but only as man. And likewise says the apostle, "Yes, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet henceforth know we him no more." Streams rise no higher than their fountain, so that their unwarrantable representations give me at most but a faint view even of human sufferings. The mute statue emits no melting cries, no throes and twistings of the body, or varied distortions of the countenance, no affecting sighs, or agonizing groans; still the tears stand in one place, and the falling blood is not followed by more, because the tears have no fountain, and the blood no veins to afford a supply—so that to read the inspired account gives the Christian a more perfect knowledge and striking view of his sufferings, than all the masterpieces of the best painters. But though they give but a faint view of bodily sufferings, what can set forth the agonies of our Savior's soul, which, like wax before the fire, was melted, and was poured out like water? Can they paint the strokes of divine vengeance which he bore for us, or depict the hidings of his Father's countenance—which gave so deep a wound? These are things for faith, not for sense; and it is the excellency of faith that it can and may intermeddle with divine things, while sense must stand at a distance.
As images strike our fancy, and impressions of them abide with us, a dumb image stands before us, when we adore the living God; so that in effect we are praying to an idol, rather than to the Searcher of hearts. The idolaters of old represented God by an ox, calf, fire, sun, man, and such-like—with which he was displeased. And the idolaters of late represent the incarnate God—as a scourged, bleeding, suffering creature—with which he is no less displeased. But I must form no idea of God, that gives figure, limits, or bounds to him, because he is infinite. My soul must go out in my prayers, in the immensity of his perfections, and I must make my plea the meritorious sufferings of Jesus, which no art of man can set forth—as the Spirit of God can to the eye of faith in the renewed soul.
IN A HOT CLIMATE.
Gibraltar Bay, May 18, 1759.
"He will shelter Israel from the storm and the wind. He will refresh her as a river in the desert and as the cool shadow of a large rock in a hot and weary land." Isaiah 32:2 (NLT)
What frail creatures are we humans! Yet how madly bold—who dare contend with God, when heat or cold, increased but a few degrees, becomes intolerable! Here, in this southern climate, how scorching is the noon sun! The earth receives so many solar sparks of fire, that sand and stones almost burn the naked skin that touches them. Now, if it is so hot so many degrees from the meridian, what must it be there, by the sun darting down his direct beams? and if carried nearer the sun still, how must the heat increase, until approaching the burning orb, we find it all one fire, one substantial flame?
Now, saints and sinners are like the inhabitants of the world, some dwelling in a mild, some in a scorching climate. O miserable condition of the wicked, who change from ill to worse, until their misery can admit almost of no increase—but in the eternity of it! Here God's anger scorches them—and hereafter his wrath consumes them. O! who knows the power of his wrath? Now they can put up with their case through stupidity—though they know no inward solid comfort. But how will they stand when oceans of boiling vengeance will roll over them forever? when they shall be set under the burning beams of inexorable justice, and fiery indignation? Our sun, even at his surface or center, is mild compared to God's displeasure—who kindled that sun, and set it in the skies.
Just now my head is pained with the beating of the sun-beams, and all my members lifeless; every pore pours out my strength, and every fibre of my tongue pants for the cold spring; but there a rock presents itself, whose friendly height shields off the scorching beams, and hides me from the heat. How refreshful to stand in the shadow here, while all is parched and scorched around me. So desirable, and vastly more—is Christ to the soul that is scorched with Sinai's fiery flames, and stands panting under the burning wrath of an offended God. The God-man "is a hiding-place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, as rivers of waters in a dry place, and the shadow of a great rock," which neither melts before the heat, nor transmits it on the fainting pilgrim "in a weary land." My body is sensible of this covert from the heat; may my soul be as sensible of your diviner shadow!
Some rocks are parched with drought—but the Rock of ages has the fountain of salvation flowing from him. I must leave this rock, though refreshful, otherwise I cannot pursue my intended journey. But in the shadow of the everlasting Rock, I must rest forever, else I shall not be able to reach the end of my journey, the land of promise. To my comfort I find refreshment in the Rock of salvation, even all that is needful in my passage heavenward, until I arrive at glory, become an inhabitant of the Rock forever, and shout my everlasting song from the top of the mountains of bliss!
Gibraltar Mole, May 31, 1759.
Here, on the shore of this vast sea, where innumerable creatures swim, I stand, and am entertained to see the various methods fishers try to entangle the finny tribe; some with the hook and bait suspended on the water; others with the bait sunk quite to the bottom; some use the insignificant earth-worm, and succeed therewith, and what they catch with it they make a bait for larger fish; others use all sorts of nets, and spread the sail, and ply the oar in pursuit of the prey, and thus catch some of all kinds.
The ocean is the world, where all the sons of men swim, every one pursuing his own game; and it holds truer of them than of the scaly family—that though they too often devour one another, yet they have their common enemy, the old serpent, the blood-thirsty dragon. Now, of those whom Satan makes a prey, some are taken with baits of pleasure; others in the snares and nets of temptation—at first as it were, against their will, through the reproofs of a natural conscience, or the effects of a religious education—but in a little while, they are taken captive by him at his will.
Again, how does Satan make use of one man to ensnare another, and draw him to hell! How often does bad company corrupt good character; and companions of fools are destroyed! Therefore how careful should we be to shun the company of the wicked, for no sooner has Satan made a prey of one soul, than he makes him a bait for others; and whoever this old serpent stings, he instills such a poison into them, that they can do nothing but sting others to death, though they themselves are mortally wounded. This may look strange, because some men, though they have no religion, appear very sober—but attend them a little, and you will find nothing but carnality, deadness, and earthly-mindedness, breathe through all they do and say.
At shore and at sea, fishers are busy to capture their prey—birds from above feed on them, and fishes through the whole deep prey upon one another. But man's condition is still worse, for, though he has enemies behind and before, dangers on every hand, and Satan watching at all points—he is also his own enemy!
But, on the other hand, O that the waters that issue out of the sanctuary would come into the great sea, to heal the waters, where the curse has already come, that everything might live. Let the gospel, that contains this flood of life, spread through the world with healing to every creature; and let men of all ranks and conditions be taken in the net of the gospel. Let the fishers stand all along the banks, and be successful in catching souls, and winning them to Christ, out of every tribe and tongue under heaven.
IN A SOUTHERN CLIMATE.
These southern climates certainly, as to fruitfulness, have the better of our northern lands. And when the traveler tells the entertaining account of spreading vines, and shady fig-trees, the beautiful pomegranate, and nourishing almond, the fragrant orange, and cooling lemon, with every other rare and useful produce—it kindles a desire in others to possess them, and makes them bless the inhabitants of such fine and fruitful countries. But were the account faithful to every particular, it would make them bless their situation in a land, where the mountains are sometimes covered with snow, and the waters congealed in ice. Did they rehearse the dangers and difficulties found there, where the lion roars after his prey, where bears and tigers range for blood, where scorpions instill torment with their poison, and serpents sting to death; yes, where, though free from all these misfortunes, the scorching sun fatigues even to faintness, and the beautiful day by extreme heat becomes a burden. I say, were the delights weighed with the dangers; the fatal encumbrances with the fruitful produce—it would cast out ambition, bring in contentment, and make us settle with pleasure in what we might call the barren spot.
This is a real truth, and an interesting inference may be drawn from it, whereby we may regulate our wrong notions and blind opinions of rich and great men. Like the fruitful countries, they are only happy in our esteem, because they seem to lie under the meridian of worldly felicity, and sunshine of prosperity. Yes, we are confirmed in this opinion, because only the better part of their condition is told to us, as travelers do of the foreign fields. With them, however, it too often fares as with these fertile lands; for worldly grandeur has the 'roaring lion of unbridled lust' often let loose on it, with all the train (more destructive than the tiger, bear, and other beasts of prey) of unruly passions, besides the unnumbered swarms of poisonous thoughts crawling over all the powers of mind. Now, though prosperity of itself brings forth no sins, any more than the heat of these climates creates hurtful creatures. Yet there they grow, and find large pasture. While sanctified affliction, like a cold and northern climate, has none of these encumbrances.
Were the life of great men—to their secret thoughts, laid before us, they would appear far from being as happy as we suppose. Their ambition, their emulation, their jealousies, their projects, their disappointments, their cares, their company and confusion—hinder them to enjoy themselves as men. Yes, the abundance of their wealth will not allow them to sleep. And, take them in the general, whatever they may be in this world, they are—with few exceptions—far from being happy with respect to the world to come.
God has lessened the pleasures of the sweetest climates by some real disadvantages; and sweetened the most disagreeable spots by some noble accommodations; that man, who is but a pilgrim, may be pleased with every place where God may cast his lot—yet neither be too elated his own country, nor despise the native places of others.
Again, the same is in the world of mankind—that there should be no advantage there. Hence the poorest man has as much sweetness in his condition (bodily health, exercise of reason, peace of mind, obedient children, etc.) as blunts his grief; and the greatest man has as much bitterness, (corroding anxiety, insatiable appetites, broken constitution, pensive thoughts, peevish temper, inward disquiet, etc.) as sours, or embitters his joys. This should render men content with that station God has placed them in, and not to expect perfect felicity here below. For every man thinks happiness is in another, not in himself, which proves that there is not one possessed of it on earth. But he comes nearest to it, who is most content with his own condition and present circumstances in every respect—neither murmuring at crosses when they come upon himself, or envying others who seem to be exempted from them; and keeps his mind on the better country, where all glorious beatitudes shall be enjoyed without anything to lessen the felicity, or abate the bliss!
ON A COURT-MARTIAL.
Gibraltar Bay, August 8, 1759.
Every law is made to restrain from vice, and bind to duty; and every nation has its own code of laws, military and civil. The martial law is accounted severe; and there is a necessity for it, because mutiny and disobedience to orders, cowardice in the time of action, and desertion to the enemy—would have the most fatal effects. But whatever be the offence, a few considerations would not be improper at such a time for the members of the court-martial.
1. To do to the defendants, in their circumstances, as they would wish to be done to themselves if in these very circumstances.
2. To mind that making the defendant an 'example' to others is costly, when at the expense of justice.
3. To pass no other sentence on the lowest, than they would do on the highest for the same fault.
4. To consult how they can answer to their conscience and to God, for their decisions, deaf to everything but justice and humanity.
5. To incline rather to the side of mercy than severity; and thus to imitate God in his most amiable perfection.
6. To reflect, if they are as strict in punishing sins against God, as desertion against their king, and offences against themselves; and to consider whose honor should be most attended to.
7. To fix it in their mind, that in a little they must stand before the tremendous bar of God, where all distinctions cease. No more the sovereign and the subject, the admiral and seaman, the captain and the soldier, the judge and the defendant.
But from the proceedings of these courts I may learn instruction; for if earthly kings so punish deserters, will not the King of glory deal dreadfully with the backsliders in heart? Those he has taken into his honorable service, shall suffer severely, if they fall away from him. Sinners in the Christian world shall have the hottest hell; and of all sinners, those who once tasted of the powers of the world to come, shall suffer the most excruciating torments.
Again, this may remind me of that day when not only actions shall be tried—but even my inmost thoughts examined, and not one concealed. The sentence of this court only respects the body, and must be executed in time, though in the execution thereof, it should finish time to the criminal. But the sentence of that heavenly tribunal reaches my soul in all her powers, and stands in force, and is put in execution—through the endless ages of eternity. O that it may be a sentence of absolution and peace!
On Some Who Were Burned by an Explosion of Gunpowder.
Under sail, August 29, 1759.
What can be quicker, and more fleeting, than the explosion of gunpowder; yet what direful effects has it had on these poor men whom it only seemed to touch as it flew along! So dismal, that even others who have lost their limbs, are objects of delight in comparison to those whose visage is burned blacker than a coal; whose beauty is marred, and whose countenance cannot be known; whose skin is parched, and falls off from their flesh. And, to sum up the whole, whose pain, though external, has kindled such a fever within, that the frame of nature suffers; they rave and pine away, until the scene is finished in death.
Now, can I look on these miserable patients without letting my reflections shoot away, and fix on the eternal world—on such as those who are suffering the vengeance of eternal fire? Ah! what a shocking sight is a tormented soul, and what miserable spectacles will the damned be, when soul and body are united to suffer in the fire that shall not be quenched, and by the worm that never dies! The most lovely person on earth, will there be loathed, and the most beautiful abhorred. When a passing flame, that goes but skin-deep, produces such dismal effects—who can comprehend the torment of those who are sentenced to the flames of hell? Who can dwell with devouring fire? Think on this, my soul, and study to escape! Who can dwell with everlasting burnings? If gunpowder, the production of men, is so destructive; how much more fierce must that fire be, which is kindled by Omnipotence!
There are some antidotes against the scorchings of earthly fire—but none against the burnings of devouring wrath. Here the poor patients are perpetually sipping some cooling liquid to allay their thirst within—but there not one drop of water can be had to cool their scorched tongue, who swim in seas of fire, mingled with brimstone, which goes into their very souls, tormenting every part, agonizing every power! Here, in these poor men one part suffers, and the rest sympathize; but there every part, every sense suffers, and none can sympathize. Surely, were the covering taken off hell, and the world allowed to look into the burning lake, they would drop down dead in a moment, the saints in a transport of joy, that they are to escape the flames; and sinners in the anguish of despair, that they are to plunge into them at their departing moments! Now, seeing these things are not dreams, why will not we awaken to our danger and our duty, and be wise before it be too late?
ON A SEA-BATTLE, FOUGHT AUGUST l7.*
August 22, 1759.
*The battle referred to, lasted five hours. Three of the enemy's ships were taken, and two burned. The Portland, on board of which the author was, engaged the French Admiral for nearly an hour before she received assistance. Her loss was very considerable; yet during the first hour's fighting, not one was even wounded.
Sin is the source of all human miseries, making men, who should like brethren live together—devour one another like the wild beasts of the field. The ocean, which is the boundary of kingdoms, is made the seat of war; hence the briny wave is tinged with human blood; and dangers, unknown to the land, surround us, for we may be blown up in a moment; or in the twinkling of an eye go down to the chambers of the deep! Besides, what can be a more terrible scene than so many great guns thundering mutual destruction, darkening all with smoke, and spewing out fire and death? The loss of officers, the groans of the wounded, cause no intermission until the vanquished sink, or surrender to the conquerors.
Now, if the wrath of men, who themselves are crushed before the moth, is so fierce, and if it is terrible to meet an enemy, though formed of the clay; how much more so to meet the omnipotent God, the Lord Almighty—in his burning wrath! How dreadful, indescribable, and tremendous, beyond conception, must be the thunders of his incensed right hand! When the hour of God's patience is past, his thunderings shall begin—but who shall be able to stand before them through eternity? Compared with his bolts, the canon-balls of our ships are but the falling drops of morning-dew! For who knows the power of his wrath? Who can comprehend the terror of his vengeance?
But, again, some men, when they see they neither can escape nor overcome—but must perish unless they surrender—they yield themselves as prisoners, and live. But sinners are obstinate to the very last, though they can never flee out of God's omnipotent hand. Yes, the rebellion of their heart remains, though the Lord God of retribution punishes them through eternity.
Again, what a lively representation of our uncertain departure is here! One who is now well—is in a moment gone—taken away from the midst of his companions into the eternal and unchanging world—unconscious of the stroke that finishes him, until felt! When the engagement began, many might hope to share the honor of the victory, and to divide the spoil, who, by a sudden death, are disappointed of all. Just so, many in the prime of life, when projecting great schemes—are cut off by a fever, or a fall, and must leave their affairs in extreme confusion.
How great is the folly of man! Though nothing concerns him so much as death; yet with nothing does he concern himself so little! Here a few hours close battle cools the rage of the keenest warrior, and decides the contest. How melancholy, then, must their condition be, who, on seas of wrath, must bear the thunderbolts of Jehovah's right hand for an eternity, without intermission, and without any possibility of an escape! On such a day as this, an enemy's powder and shot may fall short; but the storehouses of God's vengeance are infinite! The perpetual frown of him who is angry with sinners every day—will protract their agony and torment with their existence.
Under sail, August 30, 1759.
One consequence of war, is that prisoners are taken. By the laws of civilized nations, they are treated with sympathy and tenderness, as becomes fellow-creatures; yet their best situation has always something in it disagreeable, and (by the cruelty of those who forget the golden rule, to deal with others, in every situation, as they themselves would choose to be dealt with if in the same condition) something almost intolerable. For,
1. Though they are fed, yet their allowance is not the same as the king's servants.
2. They have not the privileges of the ship's crew as to bedding—but are crowded together in an uncomfortable confinement.
3. No confidence can be put in them; hence, though we should chance to engage an enemy, as they could not be trusted to fight, so they would not share in the honor or advantage of the victory.
4. Though in the daytime they sometimes mingle with the ship's company, and partake of their liberty, yet they have always the badge of bondage, being attended by sentries, and at night are separated and put under double guards, and so remain until the ensuing morning.
This is the fate of many in war; but, alas! a worse fate attends the rational world, where all are prisoners, and bound with the fetters of sin—except for those who have been pardoned by Jesus. And though the wicked enjoy liberties and riches in common with others, yes, more than others, yet "the little that a righteous man has, is better than the wealth of many wicked;" for if a little where love is, is better than an house full of sacrifices with strife; surely a very little, with the love of God—is better than great riches with his curse.
Now saints and sinners meet and mingle in the same assemblies, join in the same societies, and share the same privileges; yet the one always drags the heavy chain about with him, is a slave to every lust, the servant of sin, the captive of the mighty enemy, and the prey of the terrible destroyer. But the Christian; being delivered from these, walks in the glorious liberty of the sons of God. While sinners feed on swinish husks, and break their teeth with gravel; the saints are allowed to feast on heavenly manna, and to drink of the water of life. The unconverted lie down among thorny cares, disquiet, terror, and remorse; but the Christian has a sweet recumbency on the love of God, takes his rest in the promise, and finds it a couch which can ease his pain, and remove his complaint.
Again, as these prisoners are separated and classed together at night, so, at the night of death, the wicked mingle no more with the righteous. For while the souls of saints soar aloft to everlasting day, and their bodies rest in the peaceful grave until the joyful resurrection; the spirits of sinners are shut up in the prison of hell, and their bodies in beds of corruption until the general judgment. A little time brings about the freedom of our captives, they are set at liberty in a few months perhaps, and at the longest, when the war comes to an end; but should the war continue as long as they live, yet death shall deliver them from the power of every mortal, and translate them into the eternal world! But those who are risen up in rebellion against God—he shall shut up in hell, and pour forth his vengeance on them for evermore. Finally, we may see the depravity of the world in the conduct of our friends, who would condole more our being taken prisoner by an enemy, and losing all we had—than they bewail our natural, our unrenewed state—our loss of the image of God, of heaven, and of glory.
A Reflection on Psalm 42:7."Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls. All Your waves and Your billows are gone over me."
Near Guernsey, June 3, 1758.
O astonishing comparison of an ineffable excess of anguish! "Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls," that both may meet together, to heighten the flow of my misery to the last extremity. Now, from the tossing of this restless ocean, I may somewhat learn the force of the metaphor. Here, then, many waves, many billows dash upon us; nor do a thousand preceding waves, or ten thousand foaming billows that have spent their fury on us, stir up pity in the raging flood that forms itself into dreadful billows to fall on us afresh, and that in all quarters; not like the regular course of a rapid torrent—but like the random surges of an unruly ocean. The sea-sick passengers aboard find no compassion—but reel and stagger if they attempt to walk; and if they sit, are thrown from side to side; nay, though we were hanging for life upon the very wreck, the briny deep would cover us in its cold bosom, or, dashing us from wave to wave, would spew us on the shore.
Now, if nothing milder than the ocean, not in halcyon days—but when wearing all its terrors, when roaring and raging with universal confusion, when covered with ten thousand wrestling waves all eager to destroy, urged on by following billows, and raised by the ruffling tempest from the foaming deep, could describe the condition of the psalmist, who was a godly man, a favorite of heaven, in the day of God's withdrawing and hiding himself, though but for a moment; what shall set out the eternal anguish of those from whom he is gone forever? What billows of eternal wrath, what surges of divine indignation, shall overflow them for evermore? There, in that state, their misery is without mercy, their sea has no shore, and their ocean no bound. Hence I see, that if God is pleased to shine on the soul, all crosses are sweetened, all afflictions lightened, and the man made greatly to rejoice. On the other hand, if God hides himself, even blessings wear a gloom, and everything lowers, until he arises again with healing in his wings.
ON A SHORT INDISPOSITION.
Two days ago, sharp pains perplexed me, and made me turn and toss from side to side, seeking what I could not find—ease to my weary body. The indisposition filled me with disquietude, scattered each composed thought, and fixed an acute sense of pain. Indeed I soon got the better of it—but may I thereby be instructed of the fierceness of the torment of the damned. Let them who have cancer, gout, stone, or any other grievous illness—think what torment must be, and thereby study to escape, while there is left a way to escape. Or to prize their deliverance (if delivered) from so great a death as the second death is—where all is torment in the highest degree; where the bed is burning brimstone; where the chains and fetters are of fire and flame; where their view is the blackness of darkness forever; where their companions are devils and damned spirits; and where every sense is on the very rack, and nothing free of torment. The most acute agonies which we feel in this present world, would be a kind of pleasure and delight—in comparison of the torments of hell!
What shall people, laboring under excruciating diseases then think, if death, which must end their present disease—shall land them in hell? O then, be wise in time! Mind the concerns of an unseen eternal world—for who knows the power of his wrath?
And if I can scarcely now endure a little pang in one part—how shall I suffer torment in a every part and power, in every sense and faculty, through the whole soul and whole body—and that ages without end?
ON PUTTING OUT A LIGHT.
Off the Coast of France, June 8, 1758.
The place I dwell in being secluded from the solar ray, is lighted by a glimmering candle; and when that is extinguished, total darkness prevails at once. This puts me in mind of the more mournful situation of the natural man, the unrenewed soul, that stumbles in darkness, and walks in the midnight gloom. While the saints walk in the rays of the Sun of righteousness, and rejoice in the light of his countenance, poor sinners dwell in the region and shadow of death. Let them boast of the glimmering light of reason; it can no more direct them about the affairs of their souls, the interests of eternity, than we can survey the midnight stars by the light of a candle. But faith beholds spiritual things, and takes steady views of eternal excellencies.
With what reluctance do we remember the wicked, who "caused their terror in the land of the living!" and how does their memory stench when dead, like the snuff of that extinguished candle! And as there is no light, no spiritual illumination in them, so at death they are driven from the light of life, the light of hope, and the light of the gospel, into the darkness of utter despair, and into the eternal storm and tempest of God's devouring wrath. This the last—but lamentable end of the wicked!
While the righteous, on the other hand, like the morning-sun, concealed by the disking clouds of worldly baseness and contempt, shine more and more unto the perfect day, grow from grace to grace, until, fixed in the skies of glory, they shine celestial suns. Let my light be spiritual; my happiness that which is hereafter; and my glory that which shall be revealed.
ON DIVIDING THE SPOIL.
In all ages of the world, so great has the joy of men been on this occasion, that it has become proverbial, "as men rejoice who divide the spoil," and no wonder. To come off in safety from the field of battle, while not only foes—but fellow-soldiers fell around them; and to come off victorious, and find themselves possessed of goods they never labored for, of riches they never expected—must swell their bosom with transport and joy. And this joy of theirs in the severest manner reprimands me for not being filled with more joy in believing, for not thinking more of him who is more "glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey." Now, though the metropolis of this kingdom were robbed of all its wealth, and laid in one heap; and, to swell the wonderful pile, though all the stores of the silken Indies, the gold of Ophir, and the precious stones of every land, were added; yes, to make the collection perfect in its kind, though all that ever had a place in the museum of the philosopher, the cabinet of the curious, or the treasuries of kings, were amassed together, until the heap rose into a hill, or swelled into a mountain, from which the slaves might gather crowns and scepters, the poor treasure in abundance, and the naked shine in silks and cloth of gold—yet Christ is infinitely more excellent than this mountain of prey, and that on a double account.
1. Nothing here is for the soul, all is for the body.
2. All these things must be torn from the possessor in the hour of death, and cannot attend him to another world.
But Christ satisfies all desires, replenishes the whole soul, makes happy in time, and happy to eternity, and is a portion every way commensurate to the unbounded wishes, and immortal nature of the soul. Why should the saints less rejoice than these men who divide the spoil, when in a little while, the King himself in person shall distribute crowns and thrones, kingdoms and dominions—to every saint above?
This earthly spoil, if it enriches the conquerors, impoverishes the conquered, and perhaps has cost many of them their lives. But Christ may, in all his offices, relations, fullness, and glory, be the entire possession of every particular child of adoption, without diminution or injury to any of their happy fellow-heirs.
Some who engaged the enemy fell down slain, and are now where a whole world of these trifles, which afford survivors so much joy, would not be accounted worthy of a wish or a passing glance. Henceforth, let me rejoice at your word as one who finds great treasures, and esteem the word of your mouth better than thousands of gold and silver. I shall never be robbed of the heavenly treasure, which scatters my fears, dispels my despondencies, enriches my eternity, and ravishes my whole soul!
A DAILY CATECHISM FOR SEAMEN.
March 25, 1758.
1. How do I like the company of the wicked, and the converse of ungodly men?
2. Is their swearing as disagreeable to me as when I came first aboard; or am I more reconciled to their blasphemous talk?
3. Is my abhorrence of sin the greater, the more I see of sin? As man's fears increase with the increase of his foes, so should my hatred of sin with the increase of my danger.
4. The more that I am beset with snares and sin, am I the more watchful against sins and snares?
5. Have I forgotten to look into myself in the midst of this hurry and confusion? Reflection is a duty which no situation can loose me from.
6. Does the reaction of sin reiterate my grief and abhorrence of it? Or, like a lion's keeper—do I venture to sport with the destroyer, from which at first I started?
7. Do I resist the first appearance of sin? For sin, as well as strife, is like the letting out of waters, which at first appears a little spout—but as it passes along pushes on every side, until it spreads into an impetuous torrent, which nothing can resist, and therefore should be left off, and never meddled with.
8. Does the impiety of the company, or any other hindrance, prevent the performance of secret prayer, on reading the scriptures, as formerly?
9. Is the Sabbath still strictly observed by me, by my keeping not only from bad actions; but idle words and vain thoughts?
10. Am I careful to purge myself from all the sins which I have heard through the day, by reflecting on their vileness, protesting against them in my own bosom, dipping by faith in the blood of sprinkling; and praying that I may be pardoned for what I have been guilty in a greater or less degree?
11. Am I studious to draw the more near to God, the more that all things would drive me from God? and to beg of him, that according to my days and demands for aid, so my strength from him may be?
12. Am I ready to drop a word against vice, or in favor of true religion, without regarding ridicule, not knowing where a blessing may come; or that at least they may know that there has been, if not a prophet, yet a reprover among them?
A PROPER INSPECTION.
Lying off the French Coast, June 8, 1758.
At all times, men ought to examine their state, and fitness for going into the changeless eternal world; more especially when old age has overtaken us, or the pestilence is in our borders; or when called into the field of battle, or into the dangers of the roaring ocean. Now, as we may be surprised at any time by some event—we should be prepared at all times for every event. And, as one of these situations is at present mine, it is my duty to propose some interesting questions, to examine myself thereby.
1. Am I content with salvation from Christ on his terms—that he be my complete Savior, and that I be nothing at all?
2. If I believe, is my faith dead? Or is it a living faith, working by love, and bringing forth the fruits of righteousness?
3. Do I love God? "He who loves not, knows not God, for God is love." Love to God and man is the fulfilling of the whole law.
4. Do I love the saints, and esteem the poor but pious ones, more than all the pompous sons of vice? "Everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too."
5. Is it my desire, that in all things God may be glorified—though it were to my dishonor and loss?
6. Do I choose rather to be the proverb and reproach of all the ungodly among whom I dwell—than to speek one word against true religion?
7. Do I hate sin in its profits and pleasures in myself and others, because God hates it, and it ruins souls?
8. Do I rejoice more in hope of the glory of God, than in view of possessing all that the world can afford?
9. Is the exercise of pious duties the secret delight of my soul?
10. Do I faithfully strive against all sin, and count the victory over one lust a greater conquest than the taking a city?
11. Am I entirely resigned to the will of God in all things, being not only contented—but comforted with his disposal, though sometimes not what I would wish?
12. Is death often in my mind, judgment and eternity in my Meditation? Am I always studying to be mortified to sin, and crucified to the world, that I may live to Christ?
13. Is the word of God the light, life, comfort, food, and inheritance of my soul—into which I daily seek and search?
14. Is sin growing more and more my burden? Are my struggles after perfection more vigorous than before, and more constant?
15. Am I, through grace, ever searching my ways, examining my actions, looking into my heart, and watching over myself?
16. Is the desire of my life mostly to serve God, and not to enjoy the pleasures of sense—but to be useful even in the matters of true religion?
17. Is communion with God the delight of my soul? Have I more joy in the fore-thoughts of that fruition which the saints expect, than in all the world's present vanities?
18. Have I daily recourse to the fountain of purification to be washed from my filth, and to be accepted in the Beloved?
19. Do I remember Zion in her affliction, Jerusalem in her calamity, being filled with a zeal for the glory of God?
20. Dare I venture my eternal welfare on his gracious word of promise, that whoever believes in him shall be saved; and that no sin shall condemn the soul which casts itself on Christ?
21. Do I believe that the love of God is unchangeable, that his gifts and callings are irrevocable, and that at all times he is at hand, and that he will not desert his own people in their last moments?
If I could return an affirmative to each of these queries it would show me to be in a happy state, at peace with God, and in some measure prepared for the other world. So that I might go with undaunted courage to the day of battle, and fearless tread the field of blood—leaning on Christ alone!