Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods. And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.
~ Deuteronomy 31:17-18, Deuteronomy 32:20
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. And the heathen shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity: because they trespassed against me, therefore hid I my face from them, and gave them into the hand of their enemies: so fell they all by the sword. According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions have I done unto them, and hid my face from them. Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.
~ Isaiah 59:2, Isaiah 64:7, Ezekiel 39:23-24, Micah 3:4
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.
~ Isaiah 54:8
Christian Duty Under the Hidings of God’s Face, by John Owen. Sermon XIII. 1676.
The end of our meeting here this day is to bemoan, if God would help us, the withdrawing of God from among us, and to beg his returning unto us. It is not about any particular or any small occasion; but it is about the greatest concern of the glory of God and our own souls that we can ever be engaged or concerned in this world. Whether our spirits are suited and prepared to meet the Lord in such a work or no, we may do well to consider. Something I shall offer, if God bring it to mind, that may be of use unto us on the present occasion, from Isa. viii. 17, —
“And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.”
You may remember that my way is, upon these occasions, to speak some plain words unto you, that are not only of your special but of your present concern. I shall not, therefore, open the context here, but only tell you (which you will see by reading the chapter at any time) it was a time of great sin, of great darkness, of great danger; and yet there was a promise of Christ, that kept life in the church in the midst of all.
For the opening of the words, I would inquire into these four or five things:— 1. Whom it is that God hideth his face from; 2. What it is for God to hide his face; 3. How we may know when God hideth his face; 4. What are the reasons why God hideth his face; 5. How we may distinguish between God’s hiding his face and God’s departing; and, lastly, What is our duty in such a state and case, when God doth hide his face: “I will wait upon the Lord, who hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.”
I shall speak very plainly, and I fear somewhat briefer than I intended, by reason of my infirmities, unto these things.
First, Whom is it that the Lord hideth his face from? It is from “the house of Jacob.” God never hideth his face from the world, because his face never shines upon them. The face of God’s providence alters towards the world. It is sometimes filled with more frowns and anger than at other times, and he works great alterations accordingly; but the face of God’s grace, that neither shines upon nor can be said to be hid from the world.
God hides his face from “the house of Jacob.” And two things are considerable herein:— 1. That it is the true church of God that is intended; 2. That it is the church of God in some special state and condition that is intended, that is “Jacob.”
1. It is the true church of God that is intended. Jacob is he that received the promises, with whom God made a covenant, to whom God engaged his truth: Mic. vii. 20, “Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.” Jacob being he that God had entered into covenant withal, took into covenant with himself, “the house of Jacob” are those, that are in covenant with God.
2. There is a twofold circumstance of the church comprised in this term, “Jacob:” — (1.) That it is in a low, poor, afflicted condition. So was Jacob all his days He was a man of sorrow, a man of affliction, a man of temptation. “Few and evil were the days of his pilgrimage.” And the church is nowhere called “Jacob” but with reference unto its low estate: Isa. xli. 14, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel,” saith he. When the church is as a contemptible worm, when there are but few that belong unto it, then it is called “Jacob.” The church in a low, tempted, oppressed, sorrowful and mean condition, is “the house of Jacob.” (2.) It is in a wrestling condition. This was the character of Jacob above all the patriarchs, — he was the great wrestler with God; and he got nothing but by wrestling through great difficulties. You all know so that know the story of Jacob from first to last. So that the church is called “the house of Jacob when it is in a wrestling condition, contending with God and man for the blessing. And many repulses he had, and came off lame at last, with the unjointing of his bones.
Brethren, you see who it is that in here intended, — the true church of God, in a low, weak, distressed condition; and there are some at least among them eminently wrestling with God and eminently wrestling with men for the great blessing of Jesus Christ and the gospel. Pray take notice that God can, and sometimes doth, hide himself from the church in this state and condition. Now, a man would think, now if ever is the time for God to shine upon the house of Jacob. But there may be such things found in the church, when it is in a low, wrestling condition, that God is compelled to hide his face from them.
Thus we have stated the subject. I desire to know whether it falls upon us or no? whether we are this “house of Jacob,” whose condition is low, that, through infinite, free grace, God hath taken into covenant with himself? I do not speak absolutely in reference to ourselves, but to our brethren in the world, whose condition is low, distressed, tempted, oppressed. And yet there are remaining those that wrestle with God. If this be so, then the subject is rightly stated, and we are concerned in the text.
Secondly, Our second inquiry is, What it is for God to “hide his face”? To know that, we must inquire what it is for the face of God to shine upon any. You may observe that the shining of God’s face upon any is, in Scripture, comprehensive of all mercies and of all blessings whatsoever. I will mention but one place, Num. vi. 24–26, the blessing of God when he put his name upon the people: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” Grace, preservation, and peace, they are the sum of all we receive from God in this world. And how cloth this come? “The Lord cause his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace: the Lord cause his face to shine and bless thee.” In a word, there the shining of God’s face is, where the grace and favour of God in Christ Jesus evidences and communicates itself to the church and the souls of men. The grace and favour of God evidencing and communicating itself unto the souls of men is the shining of God’s face and the lifting up of God’s countenance.
And there are four things that do always accompany the shining of God’s face upon any people or upon any person. The peculiar way of the communication and evidence of the grace and favour; which is the shining of his face, hath these four effects:—
1. It gives them light and guidance. “In thy light,” saith the psalmist, Ps. xxxvi. 9, “we shall see light,” — in the light of God’s countenance. When the face of God shines upon men, they are not at a loss to find their way. It is as the sun unto our natural occasions. Let a man be in his way, let him know it never so well, while the sun shines upon him, how pleasantly doth he travel! Though he be in the same way, if the sun go down and darkness come, what a loss is the man at! I know not what you have done, but I know what some others have done; — they have found sometimes pleasantness, plainness, satisfaction, in the same ways that afterwards they have been ready to stumble in, and could scarce find how to take one step before another. The sun was gone down! While God’s face shines upon us, we shall not be at a loss nor in the dark about any of our ways.
2. Where God’s face shines there is the communication of spiritual strength; for, as I told you, this face of God is his grace and favour, which is the fountain of all our spiritual life, of all spiritual strength, of all spiritual vigour. I need not stay to prove these things, which you know are acknowledged. All our spiritual life is from the fountain of God’s grace and favour; and the shining of the face of God is the actual communication, of spiritual strength from that grace and favour. Whenever God’s face shines, — and let us please ourselves with any other apprehension, — We shall have spiritual life, strength, vigour, quickening, as to all duties, as to all occasions, as to all trials and sufferings, whatsoever, we are called unto.
3. The shining of God’s face is, in a peculiar manner, the cause of spiritual joy and refreshment; for by the shining of God’s countenance he doth give in pledges unto our hearts that he is our reconciled God and Father. Spiritual joy is a most peculiar effect and an infallible evidence of the shining of God’s face. Wherever it is, there God’s face shines; and where it is not, there God hides his face.
4. And lastly, Deliverance from trouble is an effect of the shining of God’s face: “Cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.” Such is the prayer of the psalmist.
These four effects do constantly accompany the lifting up of God’s countenance, and the shining of his face upon us Wherefore the hiding of God’s face must respect these effects, — light and guidance, spiritual strength, joy, and deliverance.
1. The hiding of God’s face respects light and guidance: Hos. v. 6, “They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord; but they shall not find him.” Why? “He hath withdrawn himself from them.” God hath hid himself. For God to hide himself, and for God to hide his face, are the same: Isa. xlv. 15, “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself.” And when God withdraws and hides himself, men cannot find their way. They went with their flocks and with their herds to find the way to God, — with their church-assemblies, with all their concerns, — and could not find the way to God. When God hides his face, we shall be left under darkness as unto our churches, ways, and walking.
Pray, brethren, let us now inquire whether it is so with us or no. Consider these few things in the fear of the Lord:—
(1.) Do you see the beauty and the glory of the ways of God? Do you see the glorious goings of God in the sanctuary, as may be you have seen them? Do you see a desirableness and a beauty in the ways of God’s worship in the church? Or, are these things grown unto you a very common thing? You are in a good way; hut is not the sun gone down? You are in the same path as formerly; but are your hearts so delighted, so refreshed? Do we really see a beauty and a glory in the ways and worship of the house of God? I am afraid we can scarce say so. And if it be so, it is through the want of the light of God’s countenance. We are in the same way still, but darkness is round about us; we see not the beauty and glory of the ways and worship of God. Our very walking, our very actings, the very course we most of us take in the ways of the church, do manifest the hiding of God’s face, — that God hath so far withdrawn the light of his countenance from us that we do not see a glory in the same way that once we saw before.
(2.) Are we not at a great loss as unto the ways themselves, and in the least difficulty we cannot find our way, but we are bewildered? Every trivial exception, that hath been answered a hundred times, will turn us out of the way, and keep us from the discharge of our duty, and from what God calls us unto. God hideth his face and leaves us much in the dark. When we would go about our duty, we do not find our way. All things have not been plain and clear.
(3.) Are we not in the dark as to the way of love, — the life, the soul, the cement of church-communion, — without which the best of us, as unto any church-order, are but as “sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal”? Whatever sweet or pleasant noise we make by our way or walk, without the exercise of love, we are as “sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.” Is there not darkness come upon all professors herein? Is there that love among professors in general that either hath been or ought to be? Is there that love among churches, one church to another? They are scarce concerned in one another. I did little think ever to have lived to see the day wherein the churches of Christ should have so little concern in one another as they have. There is not that love among ourselves which there ought to be. Do not the paths of love mourn because none walk in them? Doth joy arise in our hearts and pleasantness in our countenances when we behold the faces one of another? Why, then, do some complain that none visit, none confirm, none help, none relieve, none seek after their spiritual or outward condition? Who among us seeks to make himself an example of love? Is there a duty wherein men may exercise and show their gifts and parts? — there is a pretty readiness for it. Is there any thing wherein men may act severity of spirit? — they will be prepared for that. Who among us endeavours, in meekness, in condescension, in self-denial, in being little in his own eyes, to make himself an example of love? And all our church order and relation is a thing of no value without it. One person who is filled with love, which is a charitable grace, it will make him have low thoughts of himself, condescend greatly to others, forego temptation to provocations, and let go all these things. And who among us endeavours to make himself an example hereof? One such person would bring more honour and glory to Christ, and make a more glorious representation of him in the world, than a thousand of us do at this kind of rate of walking. The ways of God are the same, the worship of God the same, the saints of God the same also, — a company of poor tempted sinners: but we have not the same light, we have not the same guidance, we have not the same love; we live upon gifts, and not upon grace. God doth hide his face from us in this thing.
2. When God hides his face, there will be a decay as to spiritual strength, as to the flourishing and vigour of grace. I have spoken so much and so often to you upon this head, in this place, in our inquiry wherefore the Lord doth harden the hearts of his people from his fear, and in conference among ourselves, that I shall say no more to it, to manifest that we have this evidence of God’s hiding his face, that there is a decay of spiritual strength as to the flourishing of grace among us. And truly, brethren, I am verily persuaded that if God do not give us an understanding of it by his word, he will give us an understanding of it by his sword, by his judgments, that will follow us till we are consumed.
3. When God hides his face, there will be a decay of spiritual joys. Spiritual joys are the immediate effect of the shining of God’s countenance, the most proper pledge of it unto our hearts. And how is it with us, brethren? Pray remember my design, which is to speak familiarly unto you, and so bear with my manner of speaking at this time. How is it with us, brethren, as to this matter of spiritual joy? It is a thing that was purchased by the blood of Christ. It is more worth than all this world, and it is that without which we shall never greatly honour God, in this world or when we go out of it.
I cannot toll how to judge any of your hearts, nor what stock you have of this spiritual joy, but I will give you two or three outward signs, and one or two inward trials, whereby we may know whether there be not a decay among us in spiritual joy; and (which is the worst part of the story) we are content that so it should be.
(1.) This is certain, that carnal joys and spiritual joys are inconsistent; that where carnal joy is predominant, let men pretend what they will, and speak with the tongue of men and angels, there is no spiritual joy. By carnal joy I understand the prevalent satisfaction of the minds of men in present enjoyments, whether in relations, or in outward state and condition, or in the succeeding of their affairs. Where there is a predominant satisfaction in these things, there is no spiritual joy. “Many say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.” These things are absolutely opposed. The gladness of heart arising from the shining of God’s countenance is absolutely opposed unto that good which men find in the increase of their corn, and wine, and oil. A predominancy of carnal joy in present satisfaction as to things here below is inconsistent with spiritual joy.
(2.) Earthly cares prevailing are inconsistent with heavenly joys. God hath brought many of us into that state and condition that it may be we will say we are free upon that account: ‘We have nothing here to rejoice in; we are poor; we are low, disconsolate, afflicted.’ Well, then, but have we not, on the other side, earthly cares and desires prevalent in us? We are not rich, but we would be rich; we are not healthy, but we would be healthy and strong; we have not provision for our lusts, but we would have it. Where there is this frame of spirit there is no spiritual joy.
I will give you these two inward trials whether you have spiritual joy or no:—
[1.] The first is, a frequency in surprisals with spiritual exultation. The spouse saith that her soul was surprised: “Ere I was aware, my heart made me as the chariots of Ammi-nadib,” Cant. vi. 12. Have not we found oftentimes that we have had surprisals, upon the approaches of God, upon the visits of Christ, with spiritual exultation, rejoicing in spirit, wherein the heart hath been lifted above itself, out of itself, hath been nigh unto God, and found that sweetness which no reasoning could ever bring it unto? A frequency in these spiritual exultations is that bubbling from the fountain of joy which will fix our hearts, in the night season, by the wayside, and upon other occasions. Oftentimes the heart is drawn up with these spiritual exultations. How is it with you, brethren? Are these things frequent with you? or can you scarcely recall the time when God hath given you such rejoicing of spirit? When the mother of Jesus came to visit the mother of John the Baptist, the babe sprang in her womb. When Christ comes to give the soul a visit, the heart will spring and rise up with joy. If these things are not frequent with us, if our hearts are not often surprised with these exultations, there is not a spring of spiritual joy in them.
[2.] What doth first present itself to you upon spiritual self-examination and inquiry as to your state and condition? I do not doubt that there is none of you but do often retreat to serious examination of your own state and condition. What doth first present itself to you? If you are compassed with darkness, that you are fain to work through by acts of faith, and to labour to Come to light as to your own state and condition, you are strangers to spiritual joy. Your condition may be good as to believing, but I speak as to spiritual joy. Where the heart is stored with that, the first reflection it makes from self-examination will be full of light, and will present a beauty and a glory. Though there be faith, if there be not spiritual joy, the first consideration will be dark and confused, and our souls will be put hard to it to work out any evidence of their state and condition.
Have we not from hence another evidence that God doth hide his face from us, in the decay of spiritual joys. Either carnal joys and satisfaction do possess the room of them, or the cares of this world do stifle them, or we have not such surprisals with exultation of spirit as spiritual joy will give us upon all occasions. Sometimes when a man is taken with the greatest affliction, sorrow, distress, where there is the root of spiritual joy it will surprise him into exultation of spirit. “In that hour Jesus exulted in spirit,” Luke x. 21.
(3.) Lastly, If we are in the dark, and are fain to grope as in darkness after evidences of our state and condition, we are decayed in spiritual joy; God hideth his face as to these things.
4. God hideth his face when he doth not give deliverance. I shall not speak to this hiding, but leave it to the judgment of all whether there be not the hiding of the face of God in that particular, as to the deliverance of the church out of trouble.
Such is our second great inquiry, What it is for God to “hide his face”? When God hides his face there is a withdrawal as to light and guidance in the ways of his own worship, in the goings in and goings out of his house; as to spiritual strength in our own hearts, and the vigour of grace in our walking before him; as to spiritual joy (which, I am afraid, we are many of us strangers unto, and are pretty well content to be so); and as to deliverance; — all which things are effects of the hiding of God’s face; and when God causes his face to shine upon our souls, all will return unto us.
Thirdly, The third inquiry is, How we may know when God hideth his face from us? for it may be all these things may happen and fall out, and yet there may not be a special hiding of God’s face. These things may be in some measure and degree among us, and yet there may be no great nor special hiding of God’s face. How shall we know, if it be thus with us, that it proceeds from this cause, that God doth hide his face?
I will name but one or two things:—
1. The first is this: When in such a state and condition God seems to shut out our prayers, and we have not returns of them, we may be sure it is a time wherein God hideth his face. The church complains of it, Lam. iii. 8, “Also,” saith she, “when I cry and shout, God shutteth out my prayer.” How is it with us, brethren? We have had some days of prayer as to this mater; we have had frequent opportunities and seasons for prayer, and this thing hath been spread before the Lord; and it is the hope of my soul that you have in particular, every one of you, sought God in this matter. Where is the effect of our prayer? What ground have we got, what pledge have we of God’s return? or what revival in ourselves as to any of these things? Is it not evident that in such matters, as yet, God shutteth out our prayers? Do not think it is an ordinary thing that is befallen us. It is from the hiding of God’s face, or he would not thus shut out our prayers, that so little ground should be got upon so many endeavours.
2. God hideth his face when our endeavours for relief are fruitless; — as in that place of Hosea, chap. v. 6, “They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek me, but they shall not find me; I have withdrawn myself from them,” saith the Lord. It is time of hiding when endeavours are fruitless for recovery.
And they are fruitless upon these two grounds:— (1.) When we are in the dark, and cannot find the right way. There is something lies before us that we would fain be at, but we cannot find the way to it. The prophet tells you the reason why it is so, Isa. lix. 10, “We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noon-day as in the night.” Our way is plain, our rule is plain, and yet we cannot find the way. I am persuaded many that hear me this day would tell me, with all their souls, what it is they would be at. They would be at a spirit of faith and love; they would be at self-denial and resignation to the will of God in their own persons; they would be at special fruitfulness, at recovering a face of beauty and glory upon the church: but they cannot find the way; they grope as in the dark when they go about it; they miss the way, they cannot attain it. It is because God hath hid his face. (2.) When we grow weak and languid under our endeavours; for notwithstanding this, brethren, that God seems to shut out our prayers, that we cannot find our way, unless we abide continually in prayer and wrestling for the way, we shall never recover the face of God.
Now, it is a sign God hides his face, when we grow languid and cold in our endeavours, “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.” We grow languid in our endeavours; warm one day and cold another, enlarged in prayer one day, and give over the next; we do not warm one another: and yet our lives, and souls, and the glory of God, lie all at stake in this matter. Our hearts are feeble; it is an evidence God hideth his face. We do not wait upon him as we ought; for they that wait shall not faint, whatever they do. It is wonderfully difficult, and we do not help one another as we ought. We do not go to one another; and advise with one another, to set one another in the way. And, lastly, we grow languid after we have been put into the way. The world cools our hearts, and we think enough is done upon such occasions. We shall not know the Lord in this matter, unless we follow on to know him.
Fourthly, Why doth the Lord thus hide his face from poor Jacob, from oppressed Jacob, from wrestling Jacob, — from his own people? why cloth God thus hide his face from them as to all those things we have mentioned, — as to guidance, strength, joy, and deliverance?
The reasons are very plain why God doth it. It is, —
1. For their love of the world: Isa. lvii. 17, “For the iniquity of his covetousness I was wroth, and I hid my face from him.” It is our love of the world and conformity to the world that hath caused God thus to hide his face from us. I bless God that hath put it into the hearts of some among us to desire we may get together to consider what remedies we may have to cure us of that great conformity to the world that is grown amongst us; and I shall desire of the congregation that we may have a time to consider of it, because it is that which will greatly, with apparent offence, take us off from hearing our testimony against the world, which Christ hath committed to us. But it is for our love of the world, all and every one of us. None of us but have greatly refused God’s teachings in that particular of love of the world that is among us. “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth.” I would not judge any, nor reflect upon any; but I am afraid it is one great sin for which God is contending with our brethren at the ends of the earth, hiding his face from them, as at this day. Their hearts have too much gone out after the world, too much cleaved to it; and the word of God Cannot fail. If Jacob will love the world, if the iniquity of covetousness be found in him, God will assuredly hide his face; the word of God cannot be of none effect, It is in vain to imagine, that under a worldly, carnal frame of spirit, we should have the shining of God’s face upon us.
2. A frowardness in our walking is another reason why God hides his face from his people. God complains of Israel, they are “froward children,” and a “froward generation;” and so saith they shall not find him: Mic. iii. 4, “He will even hide his face from them, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings,” — “frowardly in their doings” When we behave ourselves frowardly in our ways, God hides his face from us. What is it to behave ourselves frowardly in the ways of God? It consists in two things, — (1.) Unreadiness to comply with God’s providence; and, — (2.) Unevenness, crookedness, in our conversations in the world. The great thing God complains of under the name of frowardness is unreadiness to comply with his providence. We do not come to that which God calls us unto; we will not be at what God calls us unto. See a particular instance, Isa. xxii. 12–14, “In that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die.” Here is great frowardness. God calls to mourning, to humiliation; instead thereof there is slaying of oxen and killing of sheep, every one rejoicing in what he hath according to his power, every one eating and drinking as they can, adorning themselves as they please, — and that at a time when God called to mourning. ‘But it is not such a time now.’ Then it was never such a time in this world. All the tokens of God’s displeasure are upon us; what we hear in the world is near approaching, particularly to ourselves. All the contests God hath had with this nation, by poverty, by that dreadful judgment of fire, and the like, threaten us every day. If these be not calls to mourning, we can have none from the word of God nor from conjunctions of providence. Yet at this time, who doth not eat and drink and clothe himself as he can, refresh himself with what he is intrusted withal, from the highest to the lowest, especially those that are great and rich, even among professors? This is to walk frowardly with God, to walk uncomplyingly with providence. Neither our garb, nor countenance, nor food, nor raiment, nor any thing else, testifies we comply with the calls of God. And it is a dreadful word that follows: “It was revealed by the Lord of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die.” For, “If ye walk contrary unto me, I will walk contrary unto you, and will punish you seven times more.” Instead of looking for the return of God and for the shining of his countenance, God speaks quite another language: “Ye walk contrary unto me, and I will punish you seven times more.” It may be this comes home to our own state and condition, to God’s dealing with his church and with particular persons. May be there is not that readiness in us to comply with the will of God in all things which he expecteth from us; and if we walk frowardly, God will never be prevailed upon by our frowardness.
3. Lukewarmness and formality in religious duties and worship are another reason why God hides his face from us. A multitude of duties men do perform. I never knew any professors in my life that were under the power of light and conviction, that did intend to countenance themselves in their lusts, but did multiply duties. But lukewarmness and formality in duty, and indulging to any lust, are as inconsistent with spirituality in duty (which is the acting of every grace in duty that is required thereunto) as light is inconsistent with darkness. And when it is so with us, God will hide his face from us.
4. And lastly, Another great reason why God hides himself from us is, because we do not fill up that testimony against the world which he hath committed to us. God hath committed to us a great testimony against the world for Christ, and for the glory and honour of his ways. And he looks on to see how we behave ourselves. And we have so shamefully betrayed the cause of God in the purity of his worship, wherein we are engaged, that saith he, “Let them alone; I will hide my face from them.”
These are some of the causes of God’s hiding his face from us:— Love of the world, frowardness, or a non-compliance with the calls of providence, formality in spiritual duties, and a not filling up our testimony against the world. And we have scarce time enough left in the world to sigh to the breaking of our hearts, that we do not more glorify God in this world. Therefore God hides his face from us.
I will but just name what I thought to have spoken on the two other heads:—
Fifthly, How shall we know that this is but a hiding, and not a departure? for saith God, “Woe to them when I depart from them!” If this should prove a departing, and the glory of God remove more and more from us, then woe unto us! How shall we know when it is a hiding, and not a departure?
1. If we mourn after the Lord, who hath hid himself from us; if we do indeed really, in our houses, closets, mourn and sigh, ‘When will the Lord return again to his people?’ — it is but a hiding.
2. It is but a hiding, when nothing will satisfy us unless God return. If God should give us peace and prosperity, give now England victory and success; if we can be satisfied with these things, God is departed. But if we can say, ‘Nothing will satisfy us unless we have a sense of the return of God again unto us, of his shining upon us in the light of his countenance, quickening and reviving a spirit of grace in our hearts, filling our souls with joy; then we can be satisfied, but never without it;’ — it is but a hiding.
3. When we can never rest in any of those things or ways which cause God to hide himself from us; when we can search our hearts and say, ‘This is that I have put into the ephah, that hath contributed to the hiding of God’s face from this congregation, from the church of God;’ when we will give ourselves no rest in any thing that contributes to the hiding of God’s face; — then it is but a hiding, and there is an appointed time wherein God will return.
Sixthly, and lastly, What is our duty in such a case as this? “I will wait upon the Lord,” saith the text, “that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.” Here is our duty.
What is “waiting?” Waiting is a permanent continuance in the performance of duties, against all difficulties and discouragements. It is a permanent abiding, a continuance in duty, whereby we seek for the return of God unto us, against all discouragements, difficulties, temptations whatsoever. They will arise from our own hearts on many various occasions; so that if we will wait upon God we must be permanent and abiding, — we must not make an end of what we have to do this day, but we must follow it on; and then the Lord will return unto the house of Jacob, from whom he hath hid his face.