THE happy believer is now advanced a great way in his journey, He has been brought to the saving knowledge of God–has received faith in his reconciled God in Jesus–has been taught by the Spirit to love his God–and has found the blessedness of holy communion with him in the way of obedience, which makes him go on rejoicing; then it is become fit and proper that his faith and love should be tried. He must expect it. It is to the honor of God, to the good of others, and to the establishing of those graces, that proof should be made of them, and that they should be put, like gold, into the furnace. This is only a refiner's fire. If the furnace be very hot, one seven times more than it was want to be heated, the gold will lose nothing. Sterling grace is purer and brighter for every fiery trial. Its enemies, who blow the flame, have no intention to refine it, and sometimes the believer himself cannot see how the means will answer the end: but God overrules every trial for his glory and the believer's good, and makes it more precious than that of gold, which perisheth. Troubles, opposition from within and from without, all the difficulties he can meet with, only serve to purge out his dross, and to render him more fit for his heavenly walk. Herein the grace of God is most marvelous. Such a power as brought light out of darkness, is continually directing and sanctifying the crosses of the believer, so that not one, of them can stop him; nay, the greatest of them help him forward in his journey, and bring him not only more safely, but also more happily to the end of it. Adored for ever be the Father's love, which makes all things work together for his children's good!
When man was in Paradise, there was nothing in him but what was conformed to the image of God. His will was one with the will of God. In this state there was no cross, Harmony ruled in the innocent breast; and God looked on his favorite man with delight. They were perfectly agreed, and they walked together in holy and happy friendship. But when man fell, then sin brought in sorrow, in the ten thousand miseries which the body suffers, and in the entire corruption of the faculties of the soul, particularly of the will, now at enmity with the will of God.
Hence our crosses. Sin is their fruitful parent; and while we are in a body of sin and of death, we cannot be exempt from suffering: for man is born to trouble as naturally as the sparks fly upwards. But the unregenerate man does not feel the cause of this: he has no spiritual senses: he is dead to God: he does not know why he suffers, and he is not sensible of what he deserves to suffer; therefore he goes on merrily, laughing and singing under a load of guilt, enough to rum a thousand worlds. But when the spirit of life enters into him, and he is made to see his state, to feel his guilt, and to fear his danger, then he begins to groan under the cross. Every day he discovers how totally he was fallen, and departed in heart from the living God. He now tastes the bitterness of sin, and finds the deadly fruits of it. Although there be a remedy provided to bring the wanderers home, and he is made acquainted with it, yet he is without strength to apply it. He cannot by believing take the comfort of it. When it is given him to believe, he still has sin and suffering to exercise his faith. Against his corruptions and temptations he must be continually fighting the good fight of faith. From this warfare he can have no discharge but by death. He must take to himself the whole armor of God, and be under arms night and day, or he will never be able to resist the assaults of evil spirits, or to overcome the opposition of evil men.
This is the heritage of all the servants of the Lord. All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. If they be on the Lord's side, all his enemies will certainly be theirs; so that if they enter into his kingdom, it must be through much tribulation. The King himself went this way to the crown, bearing his cross; and he has assured us there is no other way: "Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, CANNOT be my disciple." He must deny himself what by nature he loves, and must love what by nature he hates: unless he live in this state of self-denial, which is to be his daily cross, he cannot live in communion with me, as one of my disciples. If he be one of the highest of them, yet he must carry his cross: for he has still a fallen nature, and its senses and appetites are always lusting against the will of God, and it is like plucking out a right eye to deny them their gratifications, and to refuse them their much-coveted pleasures, he is in a body of sin and death, and must carry his cross to his grave, being liable to all the sufferings which mortality is heir to, and all the way mortified under them, because he cannot bear them without faith, nor hold out without patience; and these graces are not of himself, but are the gift of God. He is also forced to carry another cross all his days, even the corruption of his nature, depraved in every faculty, and always inclined to evil.
This is the burden and grief of the children of God, under which they all groan: and a sore and heavy burden it is, heavier for being continual, and for its always working against the grace and glory of the Lord Christ; for this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated, and appears in nothing more them that are regenerated, and appears in nothing more than in their adulterous love to their own righteousness, of which they are so dotingly fond, that after the Holy Spirit has divorced them from it, and their Maker is become their husband, even the Lord their RIGHTEOUSNESS, yet still an unlawful attachment to their own righteousness remains, and is the cause of the greatest crosses and of the heaviest trials they meet with in their way to heaven.
Hence the cross becomes necessary for the whole nature of fallen man–for body and soul. The sensual appetites are continually seeking their gratification in unlawful things, and the spiritual faculties are full of blind pride and self righteousness, and know no way to the divine favor but by their own works and goodness. The cross is indispensably needful to mortify the flesh, with its affections and lusts, and to crucify the vanity of the mind, that when it would glory, it would have nothing left to glory in but the Lord.