CHAP. 18.

Three Cases more, wherein the pangs of Conscience are not healed.


4. OTHERS there are who pass out of trouble of conscience for sin into some more tolerable courses for the time to come; but yet not thoroughly and savingly into the truth and pursuit of Christianity. For when Satan once perceives that sorrow for sin lies so heavy upon a man's heart, and the rage of guiltiness doth sting him still with such restless anguish, that in all likelihood it will at length draw and drive him to some alteration at least, and work out at last some measure of amendment, then cloth he, out of an insatiable hellish thirst to hold him still in his clutches, bend and employ all his power and policy to make him satisfy himself, and rest finally, as sufficiently fitted for salvation, in some partial, insufficient, half conversion; and to sit down contentedly with religious forms only, and some outward reformation. The devil's first desire in working our destruction is to keep a man who is notoriously naught in the highest straits of impiety; a traitor in grain, [[219]] as it were, and most desperate rebel to the Divine Majesty, wallowing still in all variety of villany and vanity. But if that will not be, he is glad to detain him in what degree of profaneness he can most conveniently and with greatest safety, though the least and the lowest; in any state of un-regenerateness, though furnished with the utmost perfection of which it is capable, so that he step not into the kingdom of Christ. Rather than he will utterly lose him and part with him quite, he will leave possession of him in part, and be willing, though full sore against his will, to lose a great deal of his former more furious service, and something of the fulness of his conformity to the fashions of hell. If he cannot do as he would, he will do as he may. When he sees him grumbling, and grow discontent and weary with the loathsomeness of the dungeon and weight of his fetters, rather than he should escape and break quite away, he will knock off some of his irons, grant him the liberty of the prison, the comfort of the walks; nay, and suffer him sometimes to walk abroad, so that he be still watchfully attended by his keeper, and continue a retainer to the kingdom of darkness. He will be content to give him the benefit of the fewest stripes in hell, and the least measure of damnation, though that also be more than infinitely terrible and intolerable, rather than he should not be damned at all. And therefore in such a case he will easily suffer him to proceed to some kind of repentance, and reformation of someone or more outward gross notorious sins, remorse whereof, perhaps, did first raise the terror and trouble in his mind, so that he will there rest and remain unmortified and unarnended in the rest. Or, he cares not much though he be universally outwardly reformed, and unblameable for the most part in his visible carriage and conversation, though he restore ill-gotten goods, say his prayers, give alms, fast often, give tithes of all that he possesses with the pharisee, hold out a lamp of goodly profession to the eye of the world with the foolish virgins, observe godly ministers, reform many things after their preaching, and hear them gladly, with Herod; so that for all this plausible and unpernicious outside the heart continue unchaste, impure, unholy, unheavenly still; and he still hug in his bosom some secret lusts and sensual corruptions with willing delight and loathness to leave them. Or, if a man, besides outward religious representations and conformities, desires also to find and feel in himself some kind of inward work, he will not be much troubled with addition of the spirit of illumination, temporary faith, some “joy in the word” (Matt. xiii, 20), “taste of the powers [[220]] of the world to come,” &c. (Heb. vi, 5); so that the spirit of special sanctification be wanting still, and that some darling delight be maintained in heart, life, or calling; which the man by no means would have meddled with or mortified. On that (which is a notable depth of the devil, of which take special notice), whereas a man hears many times out of the ministry of the word, that the abandoning of his bosom sin is a good token of a true conversion, and the embracing of it still is too sure a sign that he is Satan's still; to the end he may blind him in this important point, he will suffer him to exchange the visible form and outward exercise even of his beloved sin. For example: a man's captain and commanding sin is covetousness, and it is outwardly exercised in usury, bribery, sacrilege, &c. He is well enough content in this case to let him be frighted by the terror of the ministry from those grosser acts of cruelty for which the world cries shame on him (especially not restoring), so that he insensibly fall into and secretly practise some other cunning invisible oppressions, or any unlawful ways of getting. His sweet sin is voluptuousness; he hunts after it in the horrible villanies of adultery or fornication; but at some sermon or other, he is told and terrified, that by such sins he doth not only damn himself, but also even draw another to hell with him; whereupon be may grow into a slavish distaste and discontinuance from them, and Satan will not say much, so that there succeed in their rooms some other kinds of sins of the same class. Nay, he will yet yield further, and endure an utter cessation from the external acts and visible practice of a man's predominant and reigning sin, so that he delightfully feed upon it still in his heart with speculative greediness, and spend the strength of his affections and the most of his thoughts that way. He will give him leave to leave off his usury, and to call in his money (but ordinarily ever without restitution), so that he may hold his heart still “exercised with covetousness.” He can well enough abide abandoning the gross acts of uncleanness; so that he lie frying in the flames of his own scorching concupiscence, and consume his thoughts in the adulteries of the heart and contemplative filth. O the endless mazes, unfathomed depths, and deepest malice of that old red dragon! He will yield unto anything, rake in the very darkest nook of hell for some cunning device, rather than part with a precious soul out of his hellish paw. If a man be so haunted with horror of conscience that he dare not for his life lie any longer in notoriousness, but will needs get into some new course, he can put him into many new fashions, and yet no new birth, [[221]] no new man. He will suffer him to pass into a more tolerable conversation, and yet come short of a true conversion; he can afford him a moral change, or a formal change, or a mental change (I mean it only in respect of the spirit of illumination and general graces), or a temporary change (of which see my “Directions for Walking with God”), and yet continue him still within the confines of his cursed kingdom, and in a damnable state. He doth improve to the utmost, as occasion of advantage is offered, both the grisliest shape of a foul fiend, and the most alluring light of his angelical glory, to do us a mischief any way, either upon the right hand or the left. How many thousands, (ah, pity!) even in this clearest noon-tide of the Gospel doth he keep in a presumptuous confidence, that they are converted; and yet most certainly his own still, and in a willing slavery to someone or other predominant lust at the least! Be advised, then, in the name of Christ, whosoever thou art, when the band of God in great mercy shall visit and vex thy conscience for sin by the piercing power of the ministry, be sure to follow the direction and guidance of that blessed hand, without daubing or diversion, out of the kingdom of darkness, through the pangs of the new birth into the holy path, wholly and for ever. Make sure work, whatsoever it cost thee; go thorough-stitch, though thou lose a right hand or right eye by it; “sell all that thou hast;” the pearl is of great price; have never anything more to do with the devil; give over the trade of sinning entirely; never more to “turn again unto folly” upon any terms. And if Satan set upon thee with baits and allurements to detain thee in his spiritual bondage but by one darling delight to which thou hast been most addicted, answer him in this case with unshaken resolution, as Moses did Pharaoh in a point of temporal bondage, “There shall not so much as a hoof be left behind;” yield not a hair's breadth upon any condition to that hellish Pharaoh; especially in so great a matter as the endless salvation or damnation of thy soul. If he can keep possession but by one reigning sin, in which thou liest with delight against the light of thy conscience, hating to be reformed, he desires no more. One knot in a thread will stay the needle's passage as well as five hundred. See to this purpose my Directions of Walking with God. Beware then of closing up the wound of thy terrified and troubled conscience with any outside, half, or unsound conversion; which I make the fourth passage out of trouble of mind for sin.

5. And why may not Satan sometimes by God's [[222]] permission be suffered to inflict and fasten his fiery darts of terrors and temptations upon a man's conscience, continue them there some while with much anguish and horror for some secret holy end, seen and seeming good to Divine wisdom, and at length remove and withdraw them, not upon succession of any sound comfort or true peace from the promises of life and parion of sin; but only upon a mere cessation of the devil's pleasure to torment and terrify any longer? Not that he can hurt the least or most contemptible creature that ever God made when he pleases; but that it pleased' God sometimes to give him the reins and leave to rage. Quieting the conscience in this case is no comfortable cure from positive help; but a counterfeit palliation by ceasing to hurt.

6. Nay, let me here further, before I pass out of the point, discover unto you a mystery; but it is of iniquity and horrible hypocrisy. I have known some (would you think it?) who have counterfeited even trouble of conscience; and made show without all truth or true touch of sundry temptations and spiritual distempers incident only to the saints. And have for that purpose addressed themselves with much industry and noise, and had recourse many times to some spiritual physicians, with many tears, a heavy countenance, and other rueful circumstances, expressing almost exactly the scruples, doubts, distrusts, complaints, of such as are truly grieved in spirit and true of heart. O the wonderful depth which lieth hid in the confluence of the hypocrisies of man's false heart; and the devices of “that old serpent, which deceived' the whole world!” (Revel. xii, 9.) Such as these take upon them and lay aside terrors of conscience, as players do their apparel and parts.