CHAP.  3.

Five other Reasons why a Sinner doth not always feel the Sting of Sin.


2. ANOTHER reason why many are not troubled in a course of sin, though there be infinite cause, and a world of woe to come, is because their consciences, by reason of surfeit in sin, and being drunk with worldly delights as with sweet wine, are cast into a dead sleep, and there lulled still, and locked fast in an imaginary paradise of golden dreams and transitory fancies, by the charms and enchantments of earthly pleasures. And if at any time any noise of terror sound in their ears from the Lord’s trumpeters in the ministry of the word, so that they begin to stir, then the devil begins to bestir himself, and to rock them fast again with his syren-songs in the cradle of security. Here, therefore, we may take notice of a fourfold conscience: (1.) That which is both good and quiet, when it bath peace with God and with itself; so that the happy soul may sweetly sing in its own bosom, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” (2.) That which is neither good nor quiet, when it lies forlorn under the sense of God’s wrath and full of horror in itself, as that of Judas, &c. (3.) That which is good but not quiet, when the pleased face of God doth shine upon it through the blood of Christ, and yet it feels not the comfort of that blessed reconciliation, as in many new converts, who being truly humbled for all sin, cast themselves upon the Lord Jesus and his sure promises for spiritual and eternal life, and yet are not as yet sensible of any assurance. (4.) That which is quiet but not good, when it is as full of sin as a toad of venom, as hell of darkness; and all those innumerable sins unrepented of, unpardoned, like so many mad ban-dogs and fell mastiffs, though asleep for the present, will in the evil day, especially of sickness, death, [[70]] judgment, fly in the face of the proudest Nimrod, ready to pluck out his very beast, and to torment him with unspeakable horror; and yet for all this it is untroubled, senseless, and secure. This kind of conscience is to be found, I fear, in the most that hear me this day, and so generally over the kingdom. It doth not yet trouble and terrify,—

[1.] A great number, by reason of their ignorance in the book of God, and by consequent unacquaintedness with the sinfulness and cursedness of the spiritual state revealed thereby. This is the very case of a world of poor ignorant, besotted souls amongst us, more is the pity, especially now when the glorious sun of Christ’s gospel shines so fair and fully in many places, For want of light in God’s law they look upon then sins as we do upon the stars in a cloudy night, see only the great ones of the first magnitude, and here one -and there one. But if they were further enlightened and informed aright, they might behold them as those infinite orbs in the fairest frosty winter’s midnight. A worthy divine sets out excellently the quietness of this ignorant conscience by a very fit resemblance, thus: “Men judge of their ignorant consciences,” saith he, “as they do of their blind, dumb, and ignorant ministers. Such neither do nor can preach, can neither tell men of their sins nor a their duties. Ask such a blind-guide’s people what their opinion is of him, and what kind of man their minister is, and you shall have him magnified for a passing honest, harmless man; wondrous quiet among his neighbours. They may do what they will for him, he is none of those troublesome fellows that will he reproving their faults or complaining of their disorders in the pulpit. Oh, such an one is a quiet good man indeed! Thus judge many of their consciences. If their consciences be quiet and lie not grating upon them, and telling them that their courses are sinful and damnable, and that their persons are in a dangerous condition: but rather by their silence, ignorance, and vain pretences do justify them, and tell them all will be well enough; oh, then what excellent consciences have these men! They make no conscience of family duties; once in the year to come to the sacrament serves their turn; they are common swearers in their ordinary communication; make no conscience of sanctifying sabbaths; and their consciences let them alone in all these, do not give them one syllable of ill language. Oh, what gentle and good-natured consciences think these men they have! But, alas! what evil consciences have they!”

[2.] Nor others, by reason of a covenant with death and an agreement with hell. Such as those, Isa. xxviii, 15, who [[71]] negotiate by their plausible agents, ease, pleasures, prosperity; and conclude some kind of concord and composition for a time with Satan, sin, and their own consciences. But to tell you the truth, it is no true peace, but a politic truce. For these implacable, desperate spiritual enemies of theirs are ever in the mean time preparing arms, ordnance, and many fiery darts; still levying of fresh forces, whole armies of fiery scorpions and flaming terrors, with which as soon as the truce is ended they will set upon them with more violence, fury, and fierceness than ever before.

[3.] Nor others, by reason of an insensible hardness grown over, and a desperate searedness impressed upon their consciences by extraordinary villany and variety in sin. Such as those, Isa. v, 18, by “drawing iniquity a long time with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope;” by waving the glorious light of the word under which they sit and which shines in their faces, as a “foolish thing;” by villainously trampling underfoot the power of it with despite and scorn many times against that light, which stands in their consciences like an armed man; nay, and by treading out through custom in sin the very notions that nature Bath engraven in their hearts, as men do the engravings of tomb-stones which they walk upon with foul shoes: 1 say thus, at length, their consciences become so utterly remorseless and past all feeling; so hardened, so seared, so sealed up with a reprobate sense, that with an audacious and giant-like insolency they challenge even God Almighty himself to draw his sword of vengeance against them. “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope: that say, Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it!” These roarers and swaggering Belials in this respect have consciences worse than the devil himself; for he “believes and trembles.” Ever those already desperate and damned spirits, tremble at the forethought of that fuller wrath which is to come, and yet further deserved damnation.

[4.] Nor others, who, when it begins ever and anon to grumble, mutter, and make a noise, lull it asleep again with songs of pleasure, and still the cries of it with outward mirth, as Saul was wont to lay the evil spirit with music. These men’s consciences are quiet, not because they are savingly appeased; but because they are sensually pleased: not because they want matter to trouble and terrify; but because they will give them no leisure to set their sins in order before them. For this purpose, and to keep these [[72]] furious mastiffs muzzled for the present, they have recourse unto and improve both variety of delights and multiplicity of employments. For the first “This is the reason,” as one saith wittily, “that many are so eager in the pursuit’ of their pleasures, because they would make God’s sergeant, their own conscience, that pursues them, drunk with these pleasures; just as many men use to do, getting the sergeant that comes to arrest them into the tavern, and there making him drunk that so they may escape.” For the second, how was it possible that Ahithophel should hold out so long from hanging himself and horrible confusion of spirit, especially since he harboured in his bosom such a false, rotten, abominable heart, as appeared by that villainous counsel he gave Absalom, to lie with his father’s concubines “in the sight of all Israel;” except he had been a counsellor of state, and so necessarily taken up continually with extraordinary variety, vicissitude, and succession of most weighty and important affairs, which would wholly possess his mind with an uninterrupted attention, agitation, and exercise, and not give it any leave to reflect upon itself with those severer cogitations in cold blood which are wont to correct and condemn the enormity of exorbitant courses 1 And thus in all ages, many great men of great wisdom, being great offenders, purposely put and plunge themselves into multitude of business, that they may have no leisure to listen unto that which their consciences would secretly tell them in their ear of their Machiavellian plots, prodigious lusts, and plausible cruelties. The noise of attendants, visitants, dependents, and great employments, drown the voice of conscience in such cases, as the drums in the sacrifices to Moloch drowned the cry of the infants. But while the men of the world are thus wholly detained, and do so greedily and purposely pass away the time with cares of this life and dealings in the world, their consciences deal with them as creditors with their debtors; while they have any doings, and are in trading, in policy they let them alone and say nothing; but if once down the wind, in sickness, poverty, disgrace, then conies sergeant after sergeant, arrest upon arrest, action upon action. All their sins are set in order before them and fall full foul upon the now distressed soul, as ravens upon the fallen sheep to pick out the very eyes and heart of it, and to keep it down in the dungeon of despair for ever.

[5.] Nor others, because they cozen themselves with a formal false conceit of a comfortable spiritual state, as did the pharisee, Luke xv, 11; with a groundless presumption that they are in God’s favour, as did those, Matt. vii, 22; [[73]] and the five foolish virgins, ‘Matt. xxv; when, as God knows, they are mere strangers to the mystery of Christ, and far enough from any sound humiliation.

Thus the blindness, security, searedness, slumber, self-deceit, or some other such distemper of the conscience, conceals and keeps in the stings of those sins in sensual men, which, without turning unto the Lord in truth, “while it is called to-day,” will hereafter torment with intolerable and restless terror through all eternity.

3. A third reason why thy unlamented and unpardoned sins, though every one of them be armed with a separate fiery sting, and of their own nature so heavy with horror that they are able to sink thee into the bottom of hell, do not as yet stir nor press upon thy soul with the insupportable weight of Divine vengeance, is this they are in their native soil, where they were born, bred, and brought up in their own element; I mean in a carnal heart, soaking in sensuality and not resolved to be reformed. We say in philosophy, an element is not heavy in its own place. One bucket full of water upon the earth would be burthensome to the back of that man, who, were he in the bottom of the sea, would feel no weight at all from all the water there, though it were three miles high over his head. A sensual heart, settled upon its lees, can bear without sense or corn-plaint a world of wickedness, which out of its element and humour would he crushed into powder, and terrible with horror upon the sad apprehension of the least sin, especially set out by God’s just indignation. While Belshazzar was in his element, revelling and rioting amongst his lords, his wives, and his concubines, drinking wine swaggeringly and contemptuously in the golden and silver vessels of the temple, he felt no touch in point of conscience, or terror at all: but, put out of his humour by “the hand writing upon the plaister of the wall, his countenance was presently changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.”

4. The never-dying worm that naturally breeds and grows big in every unregenerate conscience, which beats back still the searching power of the word and secret warnings of the Spirit, is like a wolf in the foot; feed it continually with fresh supply of raw flesh, and it will let the body alone; hut withdraw that, and it devours upward. While the sons and daughters of pleasure, and all those who have their portion and paradise in this life, stop the mouth of this hellish worm with variety of carnal delights, they do well enough, and find somewhat of ease and exemption for a time from the rage and bitings thereof: but they may assure themselves, in evil times, when the days are conic upon them wherein there is no pleasure, when the play is done, when all worldly comforts and comforters, like runaway servants and drunken serving men, are to seek when they have most use and need of them,—I say, that then the time and turn is come that the worm of conscience, destitute now for ever of any further satisfaction from sensual sweetness, will ragingly turn upon the soul, devour like a lion, gnaw like a vulture, vex eternally.

5. If the weight of the whole world were now laid upon any of these bodies here lately buried, it would not stir or groan. And why? Because it is naturally dead. Proportionably, though the burthen of sin, far heavier than a mountain of lead, than this mighty and massive earth under our feet, lies upon every impenitent soul, ready every hour to press and plunge it into the lowest pit; yet, wretched and bewitched thing, it neither feels any smart, nor fears any hurt; it is neither sensible of the present weight, nor troubled for future wrath. And what is the reason? It is spiritually dead: it is stark “dead in trespasses and sins.” The strong man is gone away with all; and there is no stirring nor sense of this cursed burthen, until either a “stronger than he” lay hands upon this hellish tyrant, disarm him and throw down his holds; and a mightier voice of the Son of God than that which made Lazarus come out of the grave, put life into it; or else that the dreadful thunder of God’s fierce and final wrath, the day of visitation being expired, awake it to everlasting woe.

6. Though in the meantime thou be extremely miserable, and if thou diest in thine impenitent state this day, thou must most certainly lodge this night in the lake of fire and brimstone among the damned; yet thy sins for the present do not represent to the eye of thy conscience those forms of foulness and terror, of which they are naturally full, and which without timely repentance thou wilt hereafter find and feel in them to thine endless grief; because thou lookest upon them in the false glass of vain-glory, ignorance, self-love, self-conceitedness, painted over by the devil’s daubing, with lewd enticing colours of pleasure, profit, preferment, worldly applause, and other such goodly and golden outsides. Whereas a true and effectual beholding them in the clear crystal of God’s pure law, hunted continually at the heels with Divine vengeance, all the curses in this book, and plagues innumerable, internal, external, eternal, and in the bitter passion of Jesus Christ, without whose heart’s blood riot the least sin that ever was [[75]] committed could ever have been remitted, were able to fright a very blackmoor out of his black skin, and a leopard from his spots (Jer. xiii, 23). And thou something easest thine heart also against the terror of the Lord for thy sins, by looking upon God’s mercy with false spectacles, and so enlarging it beyond the limits of his truth. But hear what an excellent discoverer of the depths of our self-cozening hearts tells thee in such a case: “As a man passing over a bridge, which his false spectacles make to seem broader than indeed it is, being thereby deceived, goes beside the bridge and so is drowned; so is it with those whose deceitful hearts make the bridge of God’s mercy larger than it is; they are in danger of falling beside it into the waters of eternal destruction. For though God’s mercy be of the largest extent, yet it. is bounded with his truth; and therefore usually in the scriptures we find these two coupled together, God’s mercy and his truth.” Now his truth tells us, that the good tidings of the gospel belong only to the poor, to the broken-hearted, to the captives, to the blind, to the bruised (Luke iv, 18); that he only, who “confesseth and forsaketh his sins, shall have mercy” (Prov. xxviii, 13); that “except we repent we shall all perish” (Luke xiii, 3); that “except we be born again we cannot see the kingdom of God” (John iii, 3); that “God will wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on still in his trespasses” (Psalm lxviii, 21); that “if we regard iniquity in our hearts the Lord will not hear us” (Psalm lxvi, 18) that “no fornicator, nor idolater, nor adulterer, nor effeminate, nor abuser of himself with mankind, nor thief, nor covetous man, nor drunkard, nor reviler, nor extortioner, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. vi, 9, 10); that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord” (Neb. xii, 14); that “every one that calleth on the name of Christ savingly must depart from iniquity” (2 Tim. ii, 19). Compare now these and the like places with thine heart, life, and present impenitent state, and tell me in cool blood and impartially, whether any mercy at all as yet belongs unto thee upon good ground, yet lying in thy sins.