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Spiritual Desertion – a Brakel

July 6, 2010 Comments off

The thoughts and ways of the Lord are not the same as ours. Since many do not understand this, nor submit themselves well to the wise and sovereign dealings of God, they conduct themselves foolishly and manifest an increasingly negative disposition. Some who may have received a measure of light and life, would now wish to prescribe to the Lord the way in which He ought to lead His children. If, however, the Lord‟s dealings are not according to their conception, they either resist or are unable to justify the Lord in His way by subjecting themselves to them with quiet resignation. If they do so, it is only in view of their sinfulness, deeming themselves worthy of being dealt with in this manner—acting as if they were still in the covenant of works, subject to God‟s wrath, and as yet not having been translated into the state of grace. If we were wise, we would not disown our spiritual state when God deals with us in a distasteful manner. We would then submit ourselves to God—not only in view of having sinned, and thus having to endure all this, but also because all the Lord‟s dealings are only wise, good, faithful, and loving. We would then believe this and willingly submit ourselves to the Lord‟s government—however painful this would be, and however little we would be able to comprehend the Lord‟s reasons and purposes.

Among all the ways in which the Lord leads His people, spiritual desertion is among the most unique. Believers generally do not behave themselves well when thus led, and it will therefore be fruitful if we delineate the nature of this condition, comfort those who are deserted, and give them direction.

What Spiritual Desertion is Not

First, in discussing spiritual desertion we do not understand this to refer to the desertion of the unconverted. God does grant much temporal prosperity, riches, honor, and prominence to the unconverted. He may grant them external illumination, historical faith, conviction, stirrings unto repentance, and a fleeing from the base pollutions of the world. When such persons abuse all these common blessings and do not repent in consequence of this, God deserts them altogether and gives them over to themselves. Then they become even more abominable than before, upon which even more dreadful judgments may follow. This may already occur in this world, so that divine justice is both observed and glorified in them. However, this will especially occur after they die—in hell. This is to be observed in 1 Sam 16:14: “But the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him,” as well as in (Rom 1:21-26). However, we are here discussing the desertion of the regenerate.

Secondly, we do not understand this to be an entire or a final desertion. That is impossible, due to God‟s immutable decree and election, Christ‟s atonement, the sealing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and all the sure promises of God. During a period of desertion, the Lord sustains the regenerate by secret and imperceptible influences. “The Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down” (Ps 145:14).

Thirdly, we do not understand this to be a lesser infusion of spiritual grace in the one as compared to the other. In His church, God has children of various maturity. There are children, young men, and fathers. The children have a much smaller measure of grace than the fathers, but they are therefore not in a state of desertion. A father can be in a state of desertion while having and preserving more grace than the children.

Fourthly, we also do not understand it to refer to the cessation of extraordinary illuminations and comforts, after which those of an ordinary nature continue. When Paul returned again from the third heaven, it could not be said of him that he was deserted. God also grants certain of His children something extraordinary which is above and beyond the way in which they are commonly led. When this ceases, He causes them to return to their normal state. Such are not to think that they are deserted to a greater or lesser degree since they now have to miss the extraordinary.

Fifthly, we also do not understand this to refer to daily offenses, even though they occur due to the absence of the Spirit‟s influence, who indeed would have been able to keep us from such

offenses. This is nevertheless not a withdrawal of His normal influences. Even if the falling into special sins (against which we would have been able to remain standing by way of the normal support of the Spirit) indeed occurs due to the withdrawal of His influence—“God left him” 2 Chron 32:31—this is nevertheless not the desertion which is under discussion here.

Sixthly, we also do not understand this to refer to a reduction of habitual grace. God does not only move His own by way of external influences, but rather, He brings spiritual life into the soul, and this life is more vigorous in the one than in the other. This life, by reason of its spiritual principle, not only has an inherent inclination to be active, but in reality also is active by virtue of the normal operation of the Spirit. Thus, this infused propensity is enhanced by way of exercise, but can also be diminished by a variety of causes. In spiritual desertion God neither removes these propensities entirely nor partially. Instead, He withholds the normal operation of the Spirit, and as a necessary consequence of this, habitual graces sometimes diminish. This is, however, not true for all desertion, for in some cases habitual graces will increase—such as is true for tree roots, both during storms as well as during winters.

Spiritual Desertion Defined

Spiritual desertion is a lengthy withholding and withdrawal of those normal operations and influences of the Holy Spirit in the regenerate by which He illuminates them, assures them of His favor, comforts them, fortifies them against sin and temptation, and renders them help in and deliverance from temporal trials. This causes them to be in darkness, weak in faith, disconsolate, to fall into sin, succumb to temptations, and to remain grieved and fretful in the bearing of a temporal cross.

Thus, desertion pertains to both justification (and all that relates to it) and sanctification. The desertion of one person may pertain more to justification, and to sanctification with another. For the one person it is of longer duration and for the other of shorter duration. Some experience this at the outset of their conversion. It can go so far that it seems as if all will come to nought, and it seems more unlikely than ever before that their conversion is true. However, the Lord will intermittently manifest Himself to them and cause them to be steadfast again. Some come into this grievous condition after they have made some progress, the Lord having manifested Himself intimately. This will occur either suddenly or gradually. Some have to taste this at the end of their life, and sometimes the Lord will grant them His comforts again prior to their death, causing them to depart triumphantly. Sometimes they die in a condition of great desertion, darkness, and powerful temptations. In one moment they go from one extreme to the other, and that which they never thought they would attain to, they receive unexpectedly.

Believers, who, from the Word of God and their experience, have not sufficiently become acquainted with their impotence, rely upon their own strength. Even though they believe and confess otherwise, this negative frame proceeds from themselves. In doing so, they are not suggesting that they have not given the Lord reason to desert them—which is certainly the truth—but that they do not believe the Lord‟s hand to be in it. Instead, they believe that their soul is turned from God due to their neglect and inordinate desires. Thus, they secretly imagine that all will come to rights again by their own activity if they would but engage themselves, believing that they would most certainly perish if they were to neglect to do so. Others, however, who tangibly perceive this to be the work of God (namely, that He withdraws His normal support), immediately disown their spiritual state and believe it to be an evidence of God‟s wrath, and a declaration that their eternal judgment is pending—and are thus filled with fear and terror. They therefore will neglect almost all use of the means, being of the opinion that there is no hope, and they are thus consumed by despondency. There are but few who remain silent and possess their soul in patience, look to heaven for help, continue to seek even though they are in thick darkness, persevere, occasionally weep heartily, and desire to hope in the Lord—even if He were to slay them. Such are generally delivered earlier, and reap the most benefit from spiritual desertion.

Desertion is the Lord’s Withdrawal of the Normal Influences of His Spirit

It is of the greatest importance to know that it is the Lord who, in the state of desertion, withdraws His normal operation, infusion of grace, illumination, and comfort. In the Word of God this is represented with a variety of expressions, each of which are expressive of a specific manner of desertion:

(1) to return: “I will go and return to My place” (Hos 5:15); “I opened to my Beloved; but my Beloved had withdrawn Himself, and was gone: my soul failed when He spake (that is, succumbed due to shame and sorrow)” (Song 5:6);

(2) to forsake: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee” (Isa 54:7); “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Ps 22:1);

(3) to hide: “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid Me” (Isa 57:17); “How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” (Ps 13:1);

(4) to forget: “How long wilt Thou forget me, O Lord? for ever?” (Ps 13:1);

(5) to restrain: “Where is Thy zeal and Thy strength, the sounding of Thy bowels and of Thy mercies toward me? are they restrained?” (Isa 63:15);

(6) to keep silence; to hold one’s peace: “Keep not Thou silence, O God: hold not Thy peace, and be not still, O God” (Ps 83:1);

(7) to stand afar: “Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord?” (Ps 10:1);

(8) to shut up: “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah” (Ps 77:9);

(9) to cast off: “Lord, why castest Thou off my soul? why hidest Thou Thy face from me?” (Ps 88:14);

(10) to be wrathful: “Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; Thy terrors have cut me off” (Ps 88:16).

From all this it is evident that believers do not always bring themselves into a state of being estranged from God due to their misbehavior—even though this may be the case at other times. Rather, it can be that God also hides Himself from His side and departs for a season, withholding His illuminating, comforting, and sanctifying operations.

This is a most grievous and distressing condition. I pity all those who are in it; I commiserate with them. Even though God preserves His own from eternal condemnation, He does yet permit them to taste somewhat of it. Damnation consists in the missing of God‟s countenance, the sense of His wrath, and all manner of pain in soul and body. An unconverted person does not know what it is to miss God, for he has never experienced the sweetness of having had communion with God. He always finds something in this life whereby he can entertain and refresh himself. To be utterly destitute, however, to have a howling heart after it has been filled, to be without any expectation that this emptiness shall be filled, and then to miss God is a hell in the soul—even when man is yet outside of hell. God‟s children, however, who are acquainted with and who have tasted that it is good to be near unto the Lord, when they are deserted by God, and not only must miss fellowship with God, but also must experience that God is withdrawing Himself, and who, instead of enjoying His favor, must experience God‟s wrath and rejection, succumb when they experience this. “I am consumed by the blow of Thine hand” (Ps 39:10). Then their “heart panteth” (Ps 38:10). Then their condition is as expressed by Asaph: “I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed” (Ps 77:3).

It is nearly impossible to express all these disturbing thoughts and sorrowful motions within. We shall nevertheless present some, so that they who are thus may know that they are not alone in this (which they generally believe to be the case). Furthermore, we do so in order that they may know that there is reason for their sorrow, and that they—their condition having been held before them—would become tender and begin to weep, for this will refresh their soul. This will yet engender hope that at one time they will return to God.

Particular Aspects of Being in a Deserted State

It is no wonder that you are so troubled, for:

First, your Father hides Himself. How perplexed a child is whose father and mother have departed, leaving the child in a lonely and dark place! How this child will cry! And if someone were to ask, “Why are you crying,” the child would answer, “My father and mother are gone.” Has your heavenly Father also departed—your Father with whom you so intimately shared your need, before whom you could bring your desire with supplication, who used to answer and comfort you in such a familiar manner, and to whom you customarily cried out, “My Father, Thou art the guide of my youth?” Poor child, has your beloved Father departed? One will say, “If only I knew that God was my Father, then I would melt away.”

Secondly, your Jesus—your Beloved—your Bridegroom has departed. If one were to ask you, “Why are you so sorrowful,” would you then not answer, “My Beloved who used to kiss me with the kisses of His mouth; under whose shadow I used to sit; whose fruit was sweet to my mouth; who led me into the banqueting house; who waved His banner of love over me; who was all my delight; upon whom I used to lean as my Beloved; and of whom I used to boast, His mouth is most sweet: yea, He is altogether lovely Song 5:16—He who is my Beloved and my friend has departed, and therefore I am so sorrowful.”

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit refrains His influences, and thus what light, comfort, and joy can you then have? There can be nothing other than sorrow, unrest, and anxiety. “For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the Comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me” (Lam 1:16).

Fourthly, a deserted soul is in the dark, is surrounded by darkness, walks in darkness, and does not know where she is going. Wherever she turns, she suffers a setback and stumbles over the

smallest thing, for the Lord who is her light has departed from her. The Lord Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, is gone down. The Dayspring from on high does not shine upon her, and the renowned Morning Star does not arise in her heart. This causes her to be sorrowful, anxious, and full of fear.

Fifthly, she is weak and impotent, for the Lord who is the strength of her life has departed. She is ill, for the Lord Jesus her Physician has departed from her. There is no balm in Gilead for her healing, and therefore she is ready to die.

Sixthly, she is desperate and knows not what to undertake. Now she seeks it here and then there, but she knows not where to find it. The Lord Jesus, whose name is Counselor and who used to counsel her so sweetly in her perplexities, directing her to the way and to the means (always having fared so well in doing so), leaves her to herself and refuses to give her counsel. Therefore no matter what way she enters upon, she finds herself at a loss and is entangled in all manner of snares.

Seventhly, she would desire to turn to God and indeed begins to do so, but she is not able. The way is fenced up, enclosed with hewn stone, and encompassed by thorns, which she cannot penetrate, for the Lord Jesus who is the way, without whom no one can come to the Father, has departed. The Holy Spirit does not help in her infirmities and does not groan within her with groanings that cannot be uttered. Even when she prays, the Lord encompasses Himself with a cloud so that no prayer can penetrate, and when she calls, He does not answer her at all. And thus she must depart again without comfort.

Eighthly, when she takes refuge to the Word of God in order to derive some comfort from it, it is a closed Book for her. She finds nothing there for herself. Her eyes may indeed fall upon a passage of Scripture, but it disturbs her, and that which should lift her up has the opposite effect, casting her down. The Word of God is nothing more to her than a fire and a two-edged sword. It neither makes an impression nor does it have an effect upon her, for the Spirit neither joins Himself to it, nor works by means of it, and therefore it is not efficacious.

Ninthly, the enemies attack her from all sides, and everyone of them gets the advantage over her. Every arrow hits, Satan is successful in every attack, all the scorn of the world wounds her, and every manifestation of a sinful desire draws her away. She is thus as a bird caught in the snare, for her King has forsaken her and does not go into battle with her. The Lord, who is her shield, has departed and lets her stand without protection.

Tenthly, if only it were true that the soul in all this were as yet always sensible, tender, and able to cry. But no, despondency makes her numb, closes her heart, and she is, so to speak, frozen solid in a harsh winter. The Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus, who formerly caused the heart to burn within, neither set her aflame any longer nor baptize her with fire. The fountain of life has been stopped and water no longer issues forth.

Eleventhly, all this would cause more stirring within if we could but believe ourself to be a child of God. Here is, however, the primary source of anxiety: We then believe that we are not elected, never had grace, have nothing more than external illumination, and have indeed been cast away by God in His wrath. We furthermore believe that God will never be gracious to us, but that He will condemn us forever. This sense of hopelessness therefore makes us so dead and insensitive, that not a thing can move us any more. All we feel is the fatal wound in our heart. Or else we shall be so tossed about by despair that we, feeling hell so to speak, begin to entertain all manner of desperate thoughts and words. This will aggravate our sorrow to such an extent that we shall be fretful and we shall not be able to silently resign ourselves.

Thus the poor soul languishes, is as a woman forsaken, grieves in spirit, is oppressed, tossed with tempest, and not comforted. And thus her life is consumed by sorrow and her years with sighing. If the Lord did not secretly sustain her, what would then come of it all? The Lord keeps her in His power, however, and by reason of His unchangeable grace and goodness to her, will restore her again, reveal Himself to her again, and will by renewal speak to her heart and comfort her. “For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before Me, and the souls which I have made. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him” Isa 57:16,18-19.

When God’s children encounter a trial of some sort, they are not satisfied to know that it is from the Lord—with which they ought to be satisfied, knowing it to be the good, holy, and benevolent will of God with which their will ought to agree with delight, even if it were with tears in their eyes. However, they also wish to know the reason, not so much because they desire to know how they can improve their condition from their side, but to sit in judgment about the dealings of God and judge whether God‟s dealings are righteous. For they reason as follows: “If I am a child

of God, reconciled through Christ, loved of God, and an heir of eternal life, and if God does not deal thus with His other children, who prosper in body and soul, why then does God deal with me thus?” They would then conclude, “I am not a child of God,” doing so more in fretfulness than in earnest. Therefore, it is commonly their question: “Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me” (Job 10:2). Even though you need not know any reasons—for God does not give an account of His deeds—I shall nevertheless give you some.

How God Is Glorified in Desertion

First, God wills thus to be glorified. There are others beside you who will observe how God deals with you.

(1) It is to you and them that God wants to show His sovereignty and freeness in manifesting His mercy to whomever and whenever He wills. The fact that He receives you and passes others by; that you know God in Christ; that you strive to receive Jesus unto justification and sanctification; and that you have the principle of spiritual life within you, whereas others are deprived of this—all of this is not your work, but is due to the sovereign grace of God. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Rom 9:15). This is the lesson the angels and believers who are acquainted with your condition learn. You will learn this lesson while in your straits, God is glorified by others by it, and He will also be glorified by you concerning this. If we were always to live in the enjoyment of spiritual embrace, we would secretly imagine that we were entitled to this—as if it were in our power to keep ourself near to God. Upon missing it, however, we learn to know the sovereignty of God, and we learn to acknowledge and love it. Then the thought ceases, “Why am I not as another person is?” Then we learn, “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” (Dan 4:35). To learn this is worth some anxiety.

(2) The Lord thus reveals the greatness of His mercy. Not only does one become acquainted with himself as to how sinful and unworthy he is of the least grace and what a wonder it is that God would look upon him in grace; but he also knows and acknowledges that all is empty and that nothing but God can satisfy him. Oh, the mercy of God becomes so precious to him! If he may be the object of mercy, he is able and willing to miss everything, for if he must miss God, he must die for sorrow. To learn this, that is, to esteem God above his own supreme happiness, is indeed worth the occasional experience of desertion.

(3) The Lord thus demonstrates His holiness and righteousness, and His aversion for sin. Furthermore, the Lord hereby shows that, even though the believer is pleasing to Him in Christ, his corruption nevertheless displeases Him. His eyes are too pure than that they would behold evil. Believers must perceive that God is righteous in dealing with them thus—yes, that God would be righteous if He would forsake them and eternally cast them away from before His countenance, “that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest” (Ps 51:4). To perceive and embrace this is indeed worthy of the experience of some measure of sorrow.

(4) The Lord thus reveals His immutability, faithfulness, longsuffering and truthfulness. All this is confirmed by the fact that God bears with the believer in his wrong and foolish actions while being subject to His chastisement; and that God secretly supports and upholds him during this desertion so that his spiritual life is not extinguished, neither does he succumb to despair nor break forth with abominable words and deeds. God neither casts him away, nor deserts him excessively, but is still with him when he must go through the water and the fire; He restores him, and by renewal causes him to taste the mercies he previously enjoyed.

We may previously have believed in, and have acknowledged all these perfections. However, by way of spiritual desertion we shall become acquainted with them experientially. Such knowledge, such acknowledgement, and such worship far exceeds what we had before this. It is true that during a time of desertion we do not perceive all this very well, but we shall experience this subsequently. “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee” (Job 42:5). Thus, spiritual desertion is subservient to the glory of God.

God’s Children Benefit from Desertion

Secondly, spiritual desertion will serve the best interest of God’s children. This is not only because they thus become better acquainted with the perfections of God and glorify them more, but:

(1) They thus also become better acquainted with themselves. They perceive their sinful nature and deeds; how abominable they are before God, angels, and men; what they are worthy of; and what they should expect if God were to deal with them according to their conduct. This causes the soul to sink away in humility and in her nothingness. The soul experiences her impotence, neither being able to lift herself up by faith, nor being able to comfort herself thereby. Thus, if she is to be restored, her restoration must come from the Lord alone, without there being the least worthiness in her.

(2) Hereby they learn to esteem grace all the more highly. The crumbs which they previously did not regard, the least longing for the Lord Jesus, the least sigh, the feeblest prayer, the smallest measure of light, and the smallest measure of hope now appear exceedingly precious to them, presently refresh them, and they thank the Lord for them. They thus become all the more careful to preserve grace. They actively will seek to preserve what they have in order that they may continue to enjoy the love of God and His communion. When Hezekiah, after his sorrow, by renewal enjoyed comfort, he said, “What shall I say? He hath both spoken unto me, and Himself hath done it: I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul” (Isa 38:15). When the bride found her bridegroom again after having been deserted by him, she said, “I held him, and would not let him go” (Song 3:4).

(3) They are thus weaned from the world and all creatures. They no longer cleave to it, nor do they desire it. They have no need for it, and expect nothing from man. They only make use of the means as a matter of obedience—not as if thereby to obtain their desires, as if they were contingent upon these means. Time and again they turn to the Lord as their portion and their resting place, saying, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Ps 73:28-26); “But it is good for me to draw near to God” (Ps 73:28).

(4) Hereby the Lord makes known to the world and His children what graces He has planted in them, thus manifesting His omnipotence, goodness, faithfulness, and immutability. How would we have ever been acquainted with Job‟s patience, unless he had been in those trying circumstances? How would we have known about Abraham‟s faith and obedience, unless he had been subjected to those severe trials? Such is also the case when believers must experience desertion. Everyone who receives knowledge of this and interacts with them, will perceive from their actions that they despise the world and all that is in it, that they deem all their comfort to consist in having communion with God, and that the only reason for their mourning is that they must miss communion with God. This is further confirmed when, upon having been restored, it is perceived how they emerge from this trial; how they are as tried gold coming out of the fire; how fearful they are of sin; how majestic and glorious God is in their eyes; how precious Jesus is to them; how godly, humble, longsuffering, compassionate, and obliging they are; how encouraged they are in the Lord; and how they trust in Him. And thus everyone will be astonished about their change. This will be to the conviction of worldly people. It will teach God‟s children to understand the Lord‟s ways, make them strong to hope upon the Lord in trials, motivate them to thank and glorify the Lord, and also stir them up to fear and serve the Lord increasingly.

Tell me now—you who have asked for reasons why the Lord brings desertion upon His children—do not these reasons express the wisdom and goodness of God, and is it not beneficial?

Objection: God can grant all this without bringing desertion upon them.

Answer: They could not have been acquainted with all this in an experiential way, and it would be as much as to ask: “Why doesn‟t God make His children perfect from the moment of their birth? Why doesn‟t God take His children to heaven in their childhood?” There is no other way for me to answer you than by saying, “It is the wisdom and the goodness of God.” By way of His dealings, angels and men thus attain to a greater measure of felicity, greater admiration, and are rendered more fit to answer to their purpose of glorifying God in His perfections as they are revealed in Christ.

Desertion: Due to Specific Sins

Thirdly, God will at times desert His children due to specific sins. God will not desert his children because of their daily weaknesses and offenses; however, He will do so due to certain specific sins.

(1) He will do so for great sins which, in spite of many inner warnings, are deliberately committed against the conscience, and which cause great offense. Such is true for adultery, this being the reason why David had to experience desertion Ps 51. Desertion will also occur when we—in order to gratify our lust for dominance, honor, money, and whatever else there may be—conspire with the world and the men of the world, and thus forsake God‟s cause and His children, conducting ourselves as if we were one with the world, or engage in evil practices by way of lying and hypocrisy. It will be observed that God deserts such in regard to their internal comforts and their sanctification. Externally He will bring upon them shame, contempt, and distress; loss of husband, wife, children, health, and goods; and He will cause them to die in fear.

(2) He will do so if we become proud in civil life, and if in the spiritual realm we pride ourselves in our gifts, knowledge, and grace; if we wish to be esteemed as a great person in the church

and seek the praise of others. We do so if inwardly, and with our behavior, we despise those among the godly who either have a lower station in the world, or are not as advanced in grace; and if we envy those who either have a higher position in the world or a greater measure of grace and gifts than we ourselves have. In this way—in thought, word, and deed—we stir up those emotions that beget envy. Pride is a dreadful thing which God cannot tolerate. “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).

(3) He will do so if we esteem the grace of God and communion with Him of little value—not judgmentally, for that cannot be, but rather with our will, and in our practice and conduct. Such is true when we begin to love the world, halt between two opinions, and are divided in our heart and love: God something and the world something. If we thus neglect to seek God with our whole heart, with earnestness and zeal, and as the only One whom we desire; if we lightly omit our scheduled devotions or conduct them hastily in order to pacify our conscience and to assure ourselves of our salvation; if we do not open to a Jesus who is knocking, but let Him stand before the door, thereby demonstrating that communion with Him is but of little value, being without desire to make any effort; and if we grieve but little over our backsliding—then it is as if God says: “If I am worth that little to you, go your way; enjoy and entertain yourself in the world.” God will then withdraw Himself and allow this person to fend for himself.

(4) He will do so if we become conceited and depart from the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus, being desirous to have something new. We shall then engage ourselves in study in order to gain in wisdom and to acquire knowledge. Spiritual matters are too common, as they concern matters about which we are already knowledgeable and have frequently heard about. All that is new we readily embrace, regardless of whether it is truth or not. We then imagine that only now the light has dawned upon us, we have become wise, have become steadfast in the faith, and have overcome our previous dragging of our feet. We then mock with those who live tenderly and have strife. We turn our backs upon such and join ourselves to those who likewise enjoy this new-found light, irrespective of whether they fear the Lord or not. We are then at liberty and have freedom to do all that which previously smote our conscience. We are then able to boast as the world does, and do as the world does, while imagining that we are increasing wondrously. In the meantime, however, God sends a leanness into the soul. Since we do not embrace internal spiritual truths with more heartfelt love, God does at times also leave us to go our own way, not allowing us to proceed beyond the letter, and thus decrease our understanding of the spiritual dimension. Happy are they who remember from whence they have fallen, repent, and do their first works. It is rare, however, that such regain their initial level of spirituality.

Restoration for Those in Spiritual Desertion

Having presented to you spiritual desertion in its nature, consequences, and causes, we now wish to be of assistance to such and help them out of this grievous condition—even though it is a difficult task. “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” (Prov 18:14). It is, however, the duty of the strong to assist the weak and to lift up those who are bowed down. God also frequently blesses the means above expectation. Words, the strongest encouragements, the most serious exhortations, and the most effective arguments are not sufficient to that end. Deserted persons are too destitute of strength to be lifted up by this. The God who has deserted them must by renewal visit and take them by the hand. God occasionally does this in an immediate manner, infusing new grace solely by the Holy Spirit, and quickening residual grace—and they are thus restored, so to speak, in a moment. Sometimes God does this by way of external circumstances and events, which in and of themselves are not capable of being a means to that end. However, God generally uses His read or spoken Word for this purpose, which is applied to them. In order that we might be a means to your restoration, we shall propose some comforts and then give you some guidance.

Prior to this, however, I would like to ask those who are in a state of desertion the following questions: “Do you desire to be delivered from this condition? Are you desirous that the Lord would clear up your darkness and shine upon you with His light; that the Lord would assure you of having been adopted as His child and of being an heir of eternal life; that the Lord would say unto your soul, I am thy salvation, call you by name, and declare to you that you have found grace in His eyes; that the Lord would lovingly embrace your soul and cast all your sins behind His back; and that the Lord Jesus would kiss you with the kisses of His mouth and manifest His love to you? Are you desirous to again weep sweet tears, pray, believe, have loving fellowship with Him and to walk in tender piety before His countenance?” What is your answer? If you answer in the affirmative, then I ask you, “Is this true and do you really mean it?” Do you again answer “Yes,” with the sigh, “I wish it were so, but I cannot expect this”? However, there is hope in this respect; that is, only if you are willing to be delivered. If you are indeed willing, then with composure listen to the following:

The deserted person does not believe that he is a child of God and a recipient of grace. He thinks that if he were able to believe that, he would be enabled to persevere courageously in this darkness, even if it pleased the Lord not to permit him to feel His grace and comforts. Although he would very much desire this, he would nevertheless cleave to the Lord. It is thus our first task to convince the deserted person that he has grace.

First, reflect upon the days of old. Do you still remember when you were entirely in the state of nature, and neither knew God nor sought Him? Proceed and reflect upon the way which led to your change, and subsequently upon the change you have experienced. Reflect upon the prayers you offered, the tears you wept, that wrestling with and fleeing unto Jesus, that receiving of Him unto reconciliation and godliness. Furthermore, consider the insight you received concerning God and the way of salvation, and how much this differed from the knowledge of natural men. You perceived that with all their knowledge, they were as yet blind. Proceed by considering what your general objective was; how there was the fear of God, a tenderness of conscience, sensitivity toward sin, a repeated seeking of forgiveness; what a love for God, His service, and His children you then had. Furthermore, you then had an awareness in your soul of quietness, peace, hope, occasional assurance, and a sweet inclination toward God. You know these things to be true; now, set aside the sinfulness which cleaves to all God‟s children, consider these matters in their essential nature, and draw a conclusion from all this. Is there then no evidence that you did possess true grace? You will certainly not be able to say that it was hypocrisy, knowing that in all this you were dealing with God, and that your heart frequently bore witness that your conduct was in truth. You will also not be able to say that all this was but the result of external illumination and a mere work of nature. At that time you perceived the difference between yourself and those who had but external light. The fact that you are presently desirous to experience these motions again proves that you still deem all that to have been in truth, even though you impulsively speak and think otherwise. Would you not consider someone to be a gracious person if you were to hear, without his knowledge, how he wrestled with God in prayer, and if you knew his heart to be as such? This proves again that you consider your previous condition to be gracious. Therefore, proceed with your work in truth and conclude that the work in you has been in truth. Turn with this to the Holy Scriptures and believe that the gifts of God and His calling are without repentance, that He will also finish the good work He has begun in you, and that He will not forsake the work of His hands.

Secondly, consider your present state, and you will yet detect grace in it, as despairing as you may be of your condition. Also here you are to deal truthfully, even as if you were judging someone else.

(1) You have light, know the way of salvation in Christ, are acquainted with having spiritual communion with God, and know what it is to have true dealings with God. Not only do you know what faith is, but you also know how a believing soul functions. You are acquainted with the nature of inner, spiritual life; as well as that which differs from it. Your knowledge of all this is not due to the drawing of some obscure conclusion; that is, by concluding the one thing from the other. Rather, you are acquainted with the essential nature of these things, and your knowledge is such that it engenders esteem and love, together with a desire to possess them—even if they are of no comfort to you at the present.

(2) Why are you sorrowful? It is indeed not because you lack something in this world, but rather due to God being distant, Jesus having departed, and your having been forsaken. You are not merely and primarily motivated by a fear of being damned. If you were assured of the fact that you would not be damned and had everything in the world which you would desire, would you then be satisfied and would your sorrow then cease? Indeed not! This question will stimulate your inclination, and with all your heart you will declare, “I am sorrowful because I miss God, and I cannot be happy as long as I cannot draw near to Him. If that were to take place, I would be happy.” However, to perceive the deficiency of life is life, and sorrow over that which is lacking is a sure evidence of love. Such mourners are pronounced blessed, and to them pertains the promise of comfort, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4).

(3) Add to this those heartfelt desires which go out after God. If you think upon having sweet communion with God, union with Christ, a walking in love, obedience, and the service of God; and you think to yourself, “If once again I were thus”—doesn‟t that enliven your soul? Does that set your affections in motion, and would they not mount upward with wings if despondency did not hinder them in this? And as hopeless as your condition is, can you keep from lifting your eyes on high? Are you able to refrain entirely from praying? What do you then desire? This indeed shows that you desire to have something—something from God. Your heart will confess that it is God Himself, and you are thus to be convinced that your desires are after God Himself. Desire proceeds from love, however, and the promise is: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6).

Thirdly, acknowledge the intermittent comforts which the Lord grants you in the midst of your desertion.

(1) Upon entering church a fitting word is spoken which touches you. You are sensibly moved, wholeheartedly receive Jesus, the wall of separation between God and you is removed, you receive an opened door and free access to God, and you have freedom to address Him as “Abba, Father!” It may be that you join the fellowship of the godly, and behold, the Lord reveals to you there that He is present, for your soul becomes lively. It is as if the darkness disappears, and as if you are fully restored.

(2) Has the Lord not occasionally visited you in your sleep so that you were awake while sleeping? You were able to pray, were comforted, became lively, and upon awaking your sleep had been sweet. Yes, do you long for such nights, because your soul is not in a better frame than when asleep? This will occur occasionally; however, also the opposite can be true, as Job testifies in (Job 7:14).

(3) It may also occasionally occur while you are in solitude—be it in your room or in the field—that your heart is sweetly moved by God‟s Spirit—yes, the tears will flow, and there will be a calling upon and a cleaving unto the Lord. The Lord may at times visit you with comforts, assurances, and joy. You who have experienced this, however, is this not a sure evidence that the Lord neither has nor will forsake you? Strengthen yourself with this and persevere by faith when life and light are lacking, and it readily becomes dark again.

Fourthly, be it known that it is God‟s common way to cause His children to occasionally experience desertions—particularly those whom He desires to give an additional measure of grace for the purpose of growth and comfort. Nothing strange is befalling you, for God does not deal with you any differently from His other children. Perhaps you do not have the opportunity to have fellowship with such, and when you meet someone who is in such a condition, you are amazed that there are more who have come into such circumstances as you. It is as if this gives you some courage, and I tell you from experience that God generally deals with His children in this manner. Every person has his cross, whether they are pious or not. However, this particular cross is reserved for the godly only. Others have no knowledge of this; they ridicule it and consider it a case of melancholy and foolishness. We may thus even conclude from bearing this cross that the Lord has bestowed grace upon us, even though this will be difficult for us to do. Therefore, be not troubled by this, but bow yourself, and humble yourself under the mighty hand of the Lord so that He may exalt you in due time.

Fifthly, the Lord will most certainly grant deliverance and restore you. He has done so to others, even though those who have not behaved themselves all that well during their trial will not be fully restored in this life. However, they will receive this in heaven. Therefore, take courage and focus upon the promises of God. “In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours. … And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa 54:8,11,13); “For the Lord will not cast off for ever: but though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies” (Lam 3:31-32).

Therefore, neither let the consolations of God be small to you, nor ignore His promises—they are true. Others have experienced this to be so and their faith has been strengthened that much more; the Lord will also return your sense of comfort to you. Thus you may strengthen your heart with God‟s promise: Though He tarry, wait for Him; because He will surely come, He will not tarry (Hab 2:3).

Guidance in Desertion

It now remains to give some guidance to those who are experiencing desertion, as well as to those who are called to deal with such persons. A deserted person has to be on guard against certain things and has to practice certain things. The person who is deserted must refrain himself from:

(1) Disqualifying his preceding state; that is, his conduct Godward, and God‟s work in him. In so doing he would declare the work of the Holy Spirit to be a lie, which is a dreadful sin. He is not capable of judging this now as well as when he had spiritual enjoyment and light. If he cannot presently ascertain this, he must ultimately let matters be and say, “I presently cannot judge about this.” In his present condition he cannot conclude that all that has transpired in the past was not right. True children of God do indeed experience desertion, as has been shown above.

(2) Being insensitive toward and hardening himself against the Lord; that is, as if he did not wish to take this chastisement to heart—adjusting himself to the fact that if God is not comforting him, he can do without this comfort. This would greatly displease the Lord. “Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock” (Jer 5:3).

(3) Murmuring and being fretful. “If any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38); “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction” (Prov 3:11). When you are thus, the Lord will not be moved to help you, and the cross will be doubly heavy for you.

(4) Despair and despondency, thinking: “The Lord has made me the object of His wrath; it is done with me, and my hope has vanished.” This in turn begets fretful, inappropriate, and evil thoughts. Do not say, “My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord” (Lam 3:18). Be on guard for the inner turmoil of Job. “My soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life. I loathe it” (Job 7:15-16). Rather, follow his example when he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Quiet patience is pleasing to God.

(5) Neglecting the means: the reading of God‟s Word, singing, the hearing of God‟s Word, and prayer. This would be identical to a person being faint for hunger not wanting to eat due to being faint.

(6) Seeking any other comfort outside of God, entertaining yourself by eating, drinking, recreation, entertaining company, etc., and thus seeking rest in that—even though bodily refreshment can at times be a means to the enlivening of the spirit. Furthermore, be on guard against yielding to other sentiments and errors which cause one to proceed no further than judgmental knowledge, while fully neglecting a tender walk with God, and thus avoiding all spiritual struggle.

The deserted person must also practice certain things. I shall not prescribe many means here, for they are as difficult to perform as the matter itself. Consider only the following:

First, strive very much for quiet and patient subjection to the Lord‟s dealings. To be humble, to mourn as a dove which has lost its partner, and to chatter as a swallow, coming before the Lord in such a frame while longing for Him, is the appropriate disposition in these trials, and it is a fit disposition for the Lord to work in you. “He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope” (Lam 3:28-29).

Secondly, if we become aware that the Lord has withdrawn Himself due to a specific sin—some of which we have identified earlier—then it is of critical importance that we wholeheartedly repent from that sin, deeply humble ourselves, abhor ourselves, confess it with sorrow, justify God for withdrawing Himself because of that sin, and be resolved to refrain from such sin in the

future. We must then look unto the blood of Jesus in order to obtain reconciliation thereby, and pray for forgiveness. For how can the chastisement be removed as long as we do not humble ourselves over the causes and turn from them? When David was heavily oppressed so that the hand of the Lord was upon him day and night, and his moisture was changed into the drought of summer, he said, “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps 32:5).

Thirdly, continue to practice your devotions habitually as you did in former days. Do not neglect this and do it to the best of your ability. Read the Word, even if you neither have the least desire to do so, nor are moved in the least by it. Bend your knees as you are accustomed to do, and pray as best as you know how—even if you were to read a psalm prayerfully. If your soul is overwhelmed, do not walk away from this; and if inner strife intensifies, then endure it (as you would sit out a hailstorm). If you say, “This is but mechanical activity which cannot be pleasing to the Lord,” then I reply, “Go on in performing your task mechanically.” The Lord knows your motivating principle to be spiritual. He knows that you are neither satisfied with but a mechanical performance, nor a serving of Him as such, but that you are using it as the ordained means to receive help. Continue in your temporal calling and do not resign from it. Maintain fellowship with the godly, and exhort others as you have done aforetime. If you thus perform this duty, then it will be a means to you for not becoming estranged any further—yes, you will gradually be corrected by it.

Fourthly, become accustomed to living by faith. I am not speaking here of the exercise of faith in which there is utmost clarity, but of that faith by which we cleave to the Lord. Perhaps you cannot assure yourself that you are in the state of grace, but you nevertheless believe that the Lord Jesus offers Himself to a lost sinner, and that therefore whosoever will, may and must receive Him. Rely upon this expectantly, in a waiting frame, exercising faith, and surrendering yourself—even though you may neither find light nor comfort. Do not say, “It is too late, and for me there is no hope.” Rather, reply by saying, “It is a lie; I am yet alive, I still have the Word of God, and I am indeed willing if I could but find Him.” Do not yield to unbelieving thoughts, but rely upon the Word of God and you will at last experience that the Lord will again visit you in this way.

Those who must deal with those who are in a state of desertion, must pay attention as to how they deal with them, for the Lord will take note of this. He loves His children who are in a state of desertion, and if anyone adds grief to their grief, and if anyone deserts them as well, it will displease Him. Therefore, first of all refrain from:

(1) Judging them as if they were greater sinners than others, or as if they were living in an abominable sin—be it that you either condemn them in your heart, with your countenance and conduct, or in word. This was the sin of the friends of Job, who were rebuked by the Lord concerning this.

(2) Ridiculing and mocking with them as if they were going insane and were giving in to illusions and melancholy. This would greatly arouse God‟s wrath against you.

(3) Giving them evil advice, suggesting that they depart from the way of tender godliness, saying, “That is what you get if you wish to be such a wise person, be so considerate, and stand above others. Come, live as others do; give yourself some diversion, and entertain yourself together with us. Live as other people and all these illusions will disappear.” Worldly people will thus deal with them. God observes this, however, and it displeases Him; they will receive their judgment upon this.

(4) Being without hope as far as their restoration is concerned, saying, “It is useless; there is no sense in trying. Whatever one does for them is all fruitless.” There is indeed hope for their restoration, but the power to restore such is neither to be found in you nor in your words. Instead, the Lord uses others to restore such by means of their dealings with them.

Secondly,

(1) Join yourself to them instead, even if it were but to show your love by your presence, thereby encouraging such deserted souls.

(2) Let your sentiment concerning their sorrowful condition be tempered and let your conduct be consistent with this. On the one hand you must not be insensitive, and on the other hand, be not fainthearted, lest such a deserted soul be grieved or become even more fainthearted.

(3) Show your compassion as well as your inclination to help them bear this.

(4) Use your ability—as little as it may be—to comfort and encourage them.

(5) Pray for such souls, and occasionally pray with them—as capable or incapable as you may be—and do so daily in your closet. This will be pleasing to the Lord. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble” (Ps 41:1).

Source: The Christian’s reasonable service, vol 3

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