CHAP. 16.

Too Vases wherein pangs of Conscience are not healed, whatever they seem.


FOR a more full discovery of this mischief, and prevention of those miseries which may ensue upon this last miscarriage, let me acquaint you with four or five passages out of pangs of conscience, which still lead amiss and leave a man to the devil still, and for all his fair warning by the smart of a wounded spirit, drown him in the works of darkness and ways of death.

I. Some, when by the piercing power and application of the law, their consciences are pressed with the terrible and intolerable weight of their sins; and the worm that never dies, which hath been all this while dead drunk with sensual pleasures, is now awaked by the hand of Divine justice, and begins to sting; they presently with unspeakable rage and horror fall into the most abhorred and irrecoverable dungeon of despair. The flames of eternal fire seize upon them even in this life; they are in hell upon earth, and damned, as it were, above ground. Such they are commonly who all their life long have been contemners of the gospel ministry; scorners of the “good way;” quenchers of the Spirit; revolters from good beginnings and profession of grace; harbourers of some secret, vile, abominable lusts in their hearts against the light of their conscience; close agents for popery and profaneness; plausible tyrants against the power of godliness, and such other like notorious champions of the devil, and infamous rebels to the Highest -Majesty: whom, since they have been such, and have so desperately and so long “despised the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long suffering, leading them to repentance,” God most justly leaves now in the evil day: when once the hot transitory gleam of worldly pleasures is past, and his judgments begin to grow upon their thoughts like a tempestuous storm; and death to stand before them irresistible like an armed man; and sin to lie at the door like a bloodhound; and the guilty conscience to gnaw upon the heart like a vulture, &c.;—I say, then he leaves them in his righteous judgment to sink or swim, “to eat the fruit of their own ways” to the fulness of that unquenchable wrath which by their innumerable sinful provocations, Impenitency, and unbelief, they have “treasured up against this day of wrath.” That raging worm, which never dies in the damned, and naturally breeds in every graceless [[208]] conscience by their insatiable surfeit in sin, and greedy “drinking in iniquity like water,” grows so strong and to such a strange bigness, that taking advantage, especially in the time of terror, of their weakness and confusion of spirit upon the bed of death, at some season of irrecoverable danger, it surprises them upon the sudden with unexpected hellish armies of guiltiness and horror, and overthrows them quite, horse and man, never to rise again in this world or the world to come. Then would those woeful wretches who would never be warned betime, give ten thousand worlds, if they had them, for one moment of that merciful time of grace which they have cursedly long abused, for the benefit of the ministry which they have insolently scorned, for a drop of that precious blood which by their desperate villanies and hatred to be reformed they have trampled underfoot. But, alas! no mercy, no blessing, no comfort will then be had, though, with profane Esau, they seek it with tears, and throw their rueful and piercing cries into the air with hideous groans and yelling. And therefore turning their eye upon their torments will roar out like those sinful hypocrites, Isaiah xxxiii, 14, with unutterable anguish of spirit, “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with

everlasting burnings “In the morning they shall say, Would God it were even; and at even they shall say, Would God it were morning; for the fear of their hearts wherewith they shall fear, and for the sight of their eyes which they shall see” (Dent. xxviii, 67). In their lifetime they behaved themselves like cruel beasts and bloody goads in the sides of the saints and against their sincerity; and now at last themselves are caught with a witness, and lie upon their beds of extremity and terror “like wild bulls and beasts in a net, full of the fury of the Lord.”

II. Others there are, who finding their sins discovered, and their consciences wounded by the light and power of the word, and now feeling sadness, heavy-heartedness, uncouth terrors, much perplexity and anxiety of spirit coming upon them, address themselves presently and have speedy recourse to the “arm of flesh,” outward mirth, carnal contentment, and such other miserable comforters. They falsely suppose, and to their own utter and everlasting overthrow, that these spiritual pangs that are now upon them, which if rightly managed might prove a happy preparative and legal artillery, as it were, to break the iron bars and open the everlasting doors of their souls that the King of Glory might come in, be nothing but fits of melancholy, or sour and unseasonable effects and impressions of [[209]] some puritanical ministry and dangerous temptations to despair. And therefore they hie out of them as fast as they can, by posting after worldly pleasures, pastimes, plays, music, gaming, merry company, jovial meetings of good fellowship, taverns, ale-houses, visits, entertainments, improvement of their chief carnal contentment, &c.; if not to wizards and even to light a candle at the devil for light-someness of heart. Thus, I know not whether with more sin or folly, they endeavour to come unto themselves again by the mirth and madness of wine, earthly joy, carnal counsel, &c.; wherein they are not unlike those idolatrous Israelites, who while they burnt up their children in sacrifice to Moloch, filled their ears with noise of instruments, lest by the rueful cries of their little babes they should be moved to pity, and so stayed in the cruel service of that blood-sucking idol. Just so these men of pleasure and perdition do siniully seek to stop the guilty clamours of their vexed consciences with the comforts of this life and sensual joy, while their souls are sacrificing to Satan, and making fit fuel for the fire of hell, lest by listening to their cries and controlments they should be stirred up to take compassion of their own poor immortal souls, and be stopped in the pursuit of their fugitive follies and delights of sense. But, alas! in so doing they are also like a man in a burning fever, who lets down cold drink eagerly and merrily, because in the extremity of thirst it cools him a little; but after a while he shall find the heat, the pain, and the danger all doubled upon him. Earthly pleasures may for the present still the noise of an accusing conscience, and seem somewhat to allay its guilty rage, but assuredly they will afterwards kindle such a fire in the bowels of these miserable men as will burn even to the very bottom of hell, and blow them up body and soul with irrecoverable ruin for ever. He that goes about to cure the wound of his conscience for sin with sensual delight, is as if to help the toothache he should knock out his brains, or when he is stung with a wasp should rub with a nettle the smarting place, or finding no good by physic should run unto wizards; as if in extremity of thirst he should drink rank poison to quench it, apply a venomous plaister to his sore, and prop up his falling roof with burning firebrands; remedies far worse and more pestilential than the malady, for they either plunge them deeper into the dungeon of melancholy and heavy-heartedness, or else draw a skin only over the spiritual wound, whereby it festers and rankles underneath more dangerously. For thus stopping the mouth of that [[210]] never-dying worm, that insatiable wolf in the meantime doth make it, when there is no more supply of carnal pleasures whereupon it feeds for a while, to fall more furiously upon the conscience that bred it, and to gnaw more ragingly by reason of its former restraint and enforced diversion.

I know full well, Satan is right well pleased, and doth much applaud this pestilent course of theirs, and therefore he helps forward this accursed business all he can, of abandoning and banishing all trouble of mind for sin with worldly toys. For ordinarily out of his cruel cunning thus he proceeds in these cases:—

1. In the first place, and above all, he labours might and main to detain men in that height of hard-heartedness, that they may not be moved at all with the ministry, or suffer the sword of the Spirit to pierce. And then like “a strong man armed” he possesseth their bodies and souls, which are his palace, with much peace, and disposeth them wholly in any hellish service at his pleasure. Thus he prevails with a world of men amongst us. They hear sermon after sermon, judgment upon judgment, and yet are no more stirred with any penitent astonishment for sin or saving work of the word, than the very seats whereon they sit, the pillars to which they lean, or dead bodies upon which they tread. They are ordinarily such as these:—First; Ignorants of two sorts: (1.) Unskilled both in the rules of reason and religion; such are our extremely sottish and grossly ignorant people, which swarm among us in many places, to the great dishonour of the gospel, by reason of the want of catechising and other discipline. (2.) Led by the light of natural conscience to deal something honestly. but idiots in the great mystery of godliness; such are our merely civil honest men. Secondly; Those that are wise in their own conceits (Isa. v, 21), being strongly persuaded of their good estate to God-ward, whereas, as yet, they have no part at all in the first resurrection: such as those, Matt. vii, 22; and xxv, 11. Thirdly; All such as are resolved not to take sin to heart (See Isa. xxviii, 15). These either, (1.) Make God all of mercy; (2.) Or preserve a secret reservation in their hearts to repent hereafter; (3.) Or have so prodigiously hardened their hearts that they fear not the judgment to come; (4.) Or with execrable villany desire to extinguish the very notions of a Deity by a kind of an affected atheism, and, being drowned in sensuality, labour not to believe the word of God, that they may sin without all check or reluctance.

[[211]] 2. But if it fall out by God's blessing that the word once begin to get within a man, and to work terror and trouble of mind for sin; so that he sees him grow sensible of his slavery, weary of his former ways, and like enough to break the prison and be gone; then cloth he seriously observe and attend which way the party inclines, and how he may be most easily diverted, that he may thereafter proportion his plots and attempts against him the more prosperously.

(1.) If he find him to have been a horrible sinner, of a sad and melancholic disposition, much afflicted with outward crosses, &c., he then lays load upon his affrighted soul with all his cunning and cruelty, that if it be possible he may drive him to despair. For this purpose he makes keen the sting of the guilty conscience itself all he can, sharpens the empoisoned points of his own fiery darts; adds more grisliness to his many hateful transgressions, more horror to the already flaming vengeance against sin, &c.; that, if God so permit, he may be sure to strike desperately home, and sink him deep enough into that abhorred dungeon.

(2.) But if he perceive him not to have been infamous .and noted for any notorious sins, by natural constitution to be merrily disposed, impatient of heavv-heartedness, and formerly much addicted to good-fellowship; if he spy him to strive and struggle for disentanglement out of these uncouth terrors, and re-enjoyment of his former worldly delights and jovial companions;—I say, then he is most forward to follow and feed his humour this way also, that so he may stifle and utterly extinguish the work of the spirit of bondage in the very beginning. And to this end he blunts with all the cunning he can the sting of a man's own conscience, and quite removes his own: he procures and offers all occasions of outward contentment, he furnishes his fellows in iniquity and the devil's proctors with pernicious eloquence and store of enticements to bring him back again to their bent and beastly courses; he ministers his own delicious potions of carnal pleasure to cast his conscience asleep again. In brief, he leaves no policy, plot, or practice unassayed, unattempted, to make the power of the law unprofitable unto him, and to drown all his sorrow for sin in sensual drunkenness.

This, then, I make the second pestilent passage out of pangs of conscience; to wit, when a man to decline them is driven by the subtlety of Satan and perverseness of his own flesh, if not to wizards and fortune-tellers, as they call them, and other such oracles of the devil, yet at best to human helps, to worldly wisdom, to outward mirth, good-fellowship, pleasant company, his heaps of gold, hoards of [[212]] wealth, riches, pastures, variety of choicest pastimes; nay, for ease to anything, even to drinking, dancing, dicing, masking, revelling, roaring, or any other such ribald, bedlam, and raging fooleries.