Suffer Desertion

The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us:
~ 1 Kings 8:57

But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies. I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah. Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
~ Psalm 44:9, Psalm 143:6-7

LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?
~ Psalm 88:14

With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.
~ Psalm 119:10, Psalm 119:36, Psalm 141:4

My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law; That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked.
~ Psalm 63:8, Psalm 119:71, Psalm 94:12-13

When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O LORD, held me up.
~ Psalm 94:18

But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
~ 1 Corinthians 11:32

Godly Suffer Desertion, by Joseph Symonds. The following contains Chapters One and Two from his work, “The Case and Cure Of A Deserted Soul”.

Chapter One

Sometimes the godly suffer desertion.

Most men, since God and they parted in Adam, live without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12-13) and are so far from him, that they neither enjoy him, nor know him. Yet there is a generation of men whom God has brought near by the blood of Christ, with whom he has renewed that old acquaintance and amity which at the first he had with them, and they with him. This blessed estate, as it is not here perfected, so it is often interrupted. Their comforts are sweet always, but short often. There are but few (if any) whose joys in a comfortable communion with God are not sometimes clouded with sorrows and doleful elongation from him, so that if you lay but your ear to the door of their closets, you shall often hear the daughters of Zion (as heirs of their mother’s miseries) complaining in their mother’s language, “the Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14). If you fix your eyes upon them, you shall see Zion’s tears in their eyes, her paleness in their faces, her sorrows in their souls. In consideration of, and compassion to these mourners, I shall spend some thoughts upon this sad subject.

Desertions are either common or special. These which I call ‘common’ are such as all men share in by nature, God having forsaken and withdrawn himself from Adam and all his posterity, as well as from the apostate angels. The ‘special’ I shall handle as they concern the godly or hypocrites.

Desertions, as they concern men who are truly regenerate, are God’s withdrawing of himself in respect of quickening, quieting, or comforting of the soul.

Desertions, as they concern men seemingly regenerate, are God’s withholding of those influences by which they had a kind of spiritual life and comfort.

To begin, then, with desertions as they concern the godly, I shall first speak something in general of them, and then descend to the more particulars. That which I shall say in the general, I will comprise in two things:

1. That there is such an evil as spiritual desertion (chapter 1).

2. How they are deserted (chapter 2).

That there is such an estate, it is almost lost labour to prove. Yet as all in Christians is hidden and secret, so nothing is more hidden than their comforts and discomforts. I will, and that in two words, make it good; we will call in two witnesses to give evidence to the truth.

First. The experience of the saints. Ask Zion and you shall have her verdict, “And Zion said, ‘the Lord has forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me'” (Isaiah 49:14). You see here the church clad all in black, bewailing her widowhood as one bereft of her dearest husband, every word of her speech is bedewed with tears, and bears a drop from her bleeding soul. The Lord Jehovah, he whose power and fidelity has been to me as the pillars of the earth, he has forsaken me, he has cast me off. My Lord—he who was mine in covenant, mine in communion, he who was the joy of my life, the life of my joy, the strength, the stay, the spring of my life he has forgotten me. He has cast me not only out of his arms, but out of his heart. I am quite out of his love, not only forsaken, but forgotten.’

And in this Zion is not alone. Ask David, and you shall hear him as soon as you come near him, sighing, sobbing, crying, roaring. But what does he say? What ails him? He tells you, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). See how well their testimony agrees? How can a man look upon David and not count him as a poor orphan that is left in a woeful case—friendless, helpless, comfortless? But yet we will hear from one greater than David, that is, the Captain of our salvation, the first and head of the whole order. And we will go no further to ask of others than what he says. David here was a type of Christ, and as himself was but the shadow of Christ’s person, so was his sorrow but a shadow of Christ’s sorrow. David did but taste of the cup which Christ afterward drank more deeply of, when in the anguish of his soul upon the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

And this cup has gone around ever since, so that few have ever tasted of the waters of life, but they have drunk also of these waters of Marah. The experience of almost all the saints contributes to the evidence of this truth. Where shall we find a man that has not met with these rocks and sands, that has not seen some gloomy days and winter storms? We all pass through many changes, sometimes rejoicing as the plants in the spring in the sight and sense of God’s gracious preference, and sometimes mourning for our loss of God. Sometimes we are lifted up to heaven in our souls, mounting as it were on eagles’ wings. At other times we are depressed to the depths of hell and held as with chains of brass or iron. At one moment we are quickened, but soon after growing dull again. Few can say they have once found God who do not also say they have often lost him.

Second. Add to the experience of the saints the witness of God himself. David, Heman, Job, and Zion might speak much out of distrust, impatience, passion, and so forth, but when God himself shall come in to confirm their evidence, it is past doubt. For does Zion bewail herself as a widow, forlorn without a husband? God said it was so, “The Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken, and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith God” (Isaiah 54:6). God said he had (in a sense) divorced himself from her-yea, and whereas Zion complained that God had forsaken her, it is no more than God said himself, “for a small moment have I forsaken thee” (v.7). Therefore it is shown, that sometimes the sad portion of the saints is to be deserted.

And this I have spoken, that the mourners in Zion may see that this uncomfortable state may consist with grace. It is a comfort to know that thy depths are passable, and thy case curable. Others have walked in this heavy way and are now in heaven. Others have been in these storms, yet have safely arrived at the land of promise. “None other affliction hath befallen, yea, but that which is common to men” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Therefore do not be overwhelmed in grief, or give thyself up as lost. Disquietness will hurt, but it cannot help. Rather, stir yourself up to take hold of God. Repent, pray, believe, and wait for “God is faithful, and will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able, but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (v.13b).

Chapter Two

In what sense the godly are said to be deserted.

The second thing follows, how, or in what sense, the godly are said to be deserted.

First. Sometimes only in appearance, not in truth. Men are in nothing so much deceived, as in themselves. Man’s heart and ways, yea his judgment and thoughts, are subject to many variations, and frequent mistakes are found in men’s opinions about these great questions, ‘Am I truly changed, or am I a hypocrite? Do I believe or not? Is God my God, or not?’ and so forth. And the errors of men’s judgments arise from ignorance, unbelief, passion, false rules or judgment, and so forth, of which principles of error I shall speak hereafter. Through such impediments men are often puzzled, and think they are evil when they are good, and worst when best, and furthest from God when nearest to him.

Second. But, as desertions are sometimes in appearance only, so sometimes they are real, God truly withdrawing himself and denying the fullness of communion which his people were accustomed to have with him. But though he deserts them really, yet not totally, “The Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake” (1 Samuel 12:22). His truth is engaged in it, “For he hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). The words are emphatical, ou me, se ano oud ou me, se enkatalipo. Here is to be observed a duplication of the subject of the promise, I will not leave, I will not forsake’ and a multiplication of negatives—there are five negatives in the promise—by which he intimates that he will not, yea, he will not surely he will not forsake his servants, he will never wholly reject them, nor utterly leave them.

To clear this point a little, I will lay down three limitations or distinctions by which we may the better understand in what sense this is a truth that the godly are sometimes forsaken of God.

1. God leaves them for a season, not forever. If he goes from them, it is but as one that goes from home, to return again, “I will not leave you comfortless,” or as orphans, “but I will come again” (John 14:18). When Zion was in this uncomfortable case, God said unto her, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee; in a little wrath have I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee,’ saith the Lord my redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8).

He may frown, but he will smile again. Though his compassions may be restrained, yet they cannot be extinguished; his “anger endureth but a moment, in his favour is life, weeping may endure for a night, but in the morning joy comes” (Psalm 30:5). In his favour is life, though weeping may endure or lodge as a passenger, to be gone in the morning; but joy comes in the morning as an inhabitant, and enjoys his habitation to himself. As the sun sets to rise again, and as the tender mother lays down her child to take it up again, so desertions are but short interruptions of a Christian’s comfort. God will not stay away long when his people cry unto him; he will return and exchange their doleful winter into a joyful spring. Though the river has its ebbings, yet it also has its flowings; the tide of comfort will come in again.

There shall be a day of their joyful meeting with their beloved. They shall see their God, enjoy his presence, and be embraced in the arms of his love. And when this day shall come, there will be more joy in meeting than there was grief in parting. God will pour in comforts upon them as they have poured out tears for him, and will recompense their love with kindness, their desires with fullness, their mourning with gladness, their short heaviness with everlasting consolations.

2. Desertions are not the interruption of God’s love, but of the acts of his love. His affection is the same, but the expression is varied. Note that there is a two-fold love of God, or a two-fold consideration of the same.

There is the love of benevolence, and the love of benificence, or as some call it, the love of intention and the love of execution. The former is to the faithful, from eternity to eternity, and is immutable, and incapable of any intention, remission, augmentation, diminution, or any alteration. It is like God himself, unchangeable. But the latter, the love of benificence, or of execution, which is his love as it expresses itself in doing good to us, may be in a degree suspended and restrained for a season. As in the summer, there is a lux and lumen, light inherent in the sun, and light flowing from it, that is ever perfect and permanent, but this may suffer changes, it may be obscured and lessened, yea, extinguished and quite cut off, as in the night, it falls out.

A father may have a dear affection to his child, yet show but little in his carriage. David shut in his love from Absalom, not ceasing to love him, but forbearing the usual acts and expressions of his love. A fountain may have her streams cut off, or dammed up, though it has the same fullness and aptness to pour itself out as before. The root does not always give enough sap to make the branches bud and blossom at all times, yet when she is most sparing in her beneficence, her good will is the same, she sticks as close to them as ever.

We often keep back mercies from ourselves when God would more abundantly pour himself in, but we will not open unto him. And so, as that blind woman complained the house was dark when she herself was blind, so we often complain as if God had restrained mercy, when we ourselves restrain it. And it is as true, that sometimes God is provoked by our sins and keeps in his mercy, that he comes not with such gracious visits as before, yet his love is not shortened, though the fruits of it are. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid (or made him hide) his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

Though God may vary in the operations of his love, yet his love in itself is the same, and shall be the same forever, it is an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). “The hills may be removed, and the mountains may depart, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed,’ saith the Lord, that hath mercy on thee” (Isaiah 54:10). This was spoken to the church in her day of sorrow; he tells them he loved them though he afflicted them. And that speech of God to David is full for his purpose, “I will visit their transgressions with rods, and their iniquities with stripes, nevertheless my loving-kindness will not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail, my covenant will I not break” (Psalm 89:32-34).

3. When God deserts his people, he only withholds those acts of love that are for our well-being, not those which are for our being. Though a Christian may lack that without which he cannot have peace, yet he will not lack that without which he cannot live. Whatsoever is necessary to his constitution, life, completeness, and stability—these are never denied; no such “good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). He will ever hold their souls in life, not leaving them in weak beginnings, but continually leading on unto perfection. As he is the author, so he is the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). “We are confident of this very thing, that he that hath begun the good work in you, will finish it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). The saints shall have of him whatsoever is necessary, as without it they cannot hold their state, or attain their end. But that which is rather for their ornament than supportment, for the sweetness of their way than sureness of their end, for comfort rather than necessity, may be (and is often) in great measure cut off and decayed.

This then is the thing when God leaves his people. He does not leave them to the will of the flesh, the temptations and snares of the world, the power and tyranny of the prince of darkness, as never to look after them, but his care is over them in these times, and he is with them by a secret and powerful maintaining, both guiding and upholding them, and is often most in power, when least in appearance. The metals that lay deep underground, and see not the heavens in their light, yet partake of their influence. Yea ordinarily, the most precious operations of God’s gracious power are there when there is the least sense and feeling of them, and they have the most of God when they see him least. As when God covered Moses, his face in the cleft of the rock, then passed by, and gave Moses to see his glory (Exodus 33:22), so the clouds and veils that cover our eyes are often forerunners of the clearest light, and sweetest sight of God.

And when God seems to be turning a man into a desolate and ruinous heap, yet even then he is building and preparing him to be a more excellent structure. The gardener digs up his garden, pulls up his fences, takes up his plants, and to the eye, seems to make a pleasant place into a wasteland, but we know he is about to mend it, not to mar; to plant it better, and not to destroy it.

So God is present even in desertions, and though he seems to annihilate, or to reduce his new creation into a confused chaos, yet it is to repair its ruins and to make it more beautiful and strong. “The glory of the second temple was greater than the glory of the first” (Haggai 2:9). In the repairing of a house we see how they pull down part after part, as if they intended to demolish it, but the end is to make it better. It may be some posts and pillars are removed, but it is only to put in stronger ones. It may be some lights are stopped up, but it is to make room for fairer lights. So though God takes away our props, it is not that we may fall, but that he may settle us in greater strength. He batters down the life of sense to put us upon a life of faith. When he darkens our light that we cannot see, it is but to bring in fuller light, as when the stars shine not, the sun appears, repairing our loss of an obscure light with her clear, bright shining beams. So then we see that though God does forsake his people, yet not totally, not forever, nor ceasing the affection of love, but the acts, and not those which concern our being, but such as concern our well-being, such as abundant quickenings, and aid of grace, victorious and triumphant power over sin, the clear and satisfying testimony of his Spirit, and so forth.